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Life on Earth 3.2 Billion Years Ago Was Already Thriving

Image: Life on Earth 3.2 Billion Years Ago Was Already Thriving
(nature.com)

By    |   Wednesday, 18 Feb 2015 07:05 AM

Life on Earth 3.2 billion years ago was thought to be nearly non-existent, however new rock samples show that life was actually widespread at the time — roughly a billion years earlier than we thought.

According to a new report in the journal Nature, scientists from the University of Washington and the University of Johannesburg in South Africa have unearthed 52 rock samples that show many organisms from the era thrived on the nitrogen-heavy atmosphere.

These organisms were likely able to live with little or no oxygen, as the element we humans breath wasn't widespread until roughly 2.3 billion years ago.

"This is hard evidence that pushes it back a further billion years," study co-author Roger Buick said in a university blog post.

The key to the organisms thriving in this era was the development of an enzyme that could convert or "fix" naturally occurring nitrogen into a more usable form — something common today, but revolutionary at the time. Trace evidence left in the rocks suggest that the enzyme was based on the element molybdenum, one of the three common foundations for nitrogen-fixing enzymes still found today.

"Imagining that this really complicated process is so old, and has operated in the same way for 3.2 billion years, I think is fascinating," said the study's lead author, Eva Stüeken. "It suggests that these really complicated enzymes apparently formed really early, so maybe it’s not so difficult for these enzymes to evolve."

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Life on Earth 3.2 billion years ago was thought to be nearly non-existent, however new rock samples show that life was actually widespread at the time — roughly a billion years earlier than we thought.
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2015-05-18
Wednesday, 18 Feb 2015 07:05 AM
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