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New discovery of 4.2 billion-year-old fossil may reveal Earth’s oldest life

Published Apr 21st, 2022 8:41AM EDT
Earth in space
Image: Tryfonov / Adobe

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Scientists may have found proof of the oldest life on Earth. According to the new evidence, life on Earth may have begun as early as 300 million years after Earth first formed. The previous confirmed oldest life on Earth was dated around 3.5-3.7 billion years old. Many scientists believe the Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. That makes these new microfossils a startling 4.2 billion years old, if proven correct.

The discovery that the oldest life on Earth may have formed so early is exciting for a number of reasons. First, it shows that life was finding a way even back when the Earth wasn’t as habitable as it is now. Second, the scientists involved believe that these types of microfossils could also exist as signs of life on alien planets.

These new microfossils might be the oldest life on Earth

Fossils, such as those above, can give us a glimpse into some of the earliest life on Earth. Image source: C. Klug et al., Swiss Journal of Palaeontology

The microfossils in question were originally described in a 2017 study led by researcher Dominic Papineau. However, at the time, many doubted the biological origin of the structures. This led to more research into the microfossils, birthing a new study published this month in Science Advances.

In the study, the team describes the possible oldest life on Earth as a tree-like structure roughly a centimeter across. The design is similar to some we’ve seen bacteria create in present times. Additionally, the scientists argue that the characteristics of the microfossils make a non-biological origin highly unlikely.

Of course, discovering proof of the oldest life on Earth also opens up new doors for questions.

Papineau told Vice News back in 2017, that if the origin of life takes such a short time to develop, then it brings up even more philosophical questions about the “probability of life” as a whole. And, he also says that it creates some new opportunities to possibly push the clock back for the origin of life.

Pushing evidence

scientists working in labImage source: chokniti / Adobe

But the search doesn’t stop here. While the discovery of the oldest life on Earth is exciting, there’s still not 100 percent proof that these microfossils are biological in origin. As such, we could see more studies released in the future. Studies that dig deeper into the microfossils and what causes them.

The researchers say that the microfossils could harbor signs of ancient life. However, it needs to be demonstrated that the microstructures actually originated from within the environment and that they did not form during later processes.

If researchers can prove that, then we’ll have a new solidified record for the oldest life on Earth.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.