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Complex life billion years earlier than thought?


From the Guardian:

Fossils from China are said to prove that multi-cellular organisms evolved as early as 1.5bn years ago – but some experts dismiss findings

“Our discovery pushes back nearly one billion years the appearance of macroscopic, multi-cellular eukaryotes compared to previous research,” said Maoyan Zhu, a professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

The fossils were uncovered in the Yanshan region of Hebei province in China. Zhu and colleagues said they had found 167 measurable fossils, a third of them in one of four regular shapes – an indication of complexity. The largest measured 30cm by 8cm.

Taken together they were “compelling evidence for the early evolution of organisms large enough to be visible with the naked eye”, said Zhu.

Have we just shaved the boring billion to a boring thousand?

But other experts were more sceptical.

“There is nothing here to suggest that the specimens are eukaryotic, as opposed to bacterial,” said Jonathan Antcliffe, a senior researcher in the University of Oxford’s department of zoology. Bacteria are, by definition, unicellular, and do not have distinct nuclei containing genetic material. More.

They may turn out to just be colonies. We’ll see.

Of course, the more quickly life became complex, the less likely the many “it just so happened” theories sound.

Sometimes the wires even get crossed. We learn at New Scientist, for example, that Earth isn’t even that great a planet for life to get started on. And the inference made from that difficulty is, you guessed it, life, including complex life, must be abundant elsewhere.

See also: Oldest known multicellulars are Ediacaran seaweed 555 mya (So far.)

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