New fossil evidence from rocks found in Canada shows that life on Earth began between 3.75 to 4.2 billion years ago, according to a new study.
If the research published in Science Advances proves correct, the microbial fossils would be the oldest life found on the planet, and could indicate that life began just 300 million years after the Earth first formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists at University College London have discovered tiny structures inside rocks that they believe can only be made by microbes that lived billions of years ago near hydrothermal vents in the oceans.
Previously, the oldest confirmed microfossils were about 3.5-3.7 billion years old.
Fossils in the rocks were first described in a 2017 study by principal investigator Dominic Papineau, associate professor of geochemistry and astrobiology at UCLA. However, some doubted that the structures were biological in origin, which led to more years of work by the team to ascertain how they were created.
The team described a tree-like structure about 1 centimeter wide. The scientists said the structure’s properties make it highly unlikely that it was created through chemical processes alone. It is also similar to those created by some bacteria today.
“These microfossils may actually exist on other ancient planetary surfaces because if the origin of life took such a short time to evolve, and you have that level of complexity, that raises a lot of new philosophical questions about the possibility that life arose and left these kinds of fingerprints behind,” he said. Papino for Vice News. “It creates a lot of new opportunities to put the clock back on the origin of life and look specifically for these kinds of things on other planets.”