From Sarah Kaplan at Washington Post on a recent find in northern Canada:
The straw-shaped “microfossils,” narrower than the width of a human hair and invisible to the naked eye, are believed to come from ancient microbes, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Scientists debate the age of the specimens, but the authors’ youngest estimate — 3.77 billion years — would make these fossils the oldest ever found.
Some apparent finds in recent years have not been found to be the residue of life, but in this case:
But the scientists behind the new finding believe their analysis should hold up to scrutiny. In addition to structures that look like fossil microbes, the rocks contain a cocktail of chemical compounds they say is almost certainly the result of biological processes.
If their results are confirmed, they will boost a belief that organisms arose very early in the history of Earth — and may find it just as easy to evolve on worlds beyond our own.
“The process to kick-start life may not need a significant length of time or special chemistry, but could actually be a relatively simple process to get started,” said Matthew Dodd, a biogeochemist at University College London and the lead author of the paper. “It has big implications for whether life is abundant or not in the universe.” More.
Dodd’s spin on the find is so familiar now that few pause to notice what underlies it: Pushing the origin further back (the authors’ oldest estimate is s 4.28 billion years) leaves ever less time for a random natural origin of life. And we still simply have no idea whether life is abundant in the universe, as he suggests, because conditions can be so different elsewhere. Bringing the idea up avoids the obvious conclusion that current proposed accounts can’t work.
See also: Origin of life requires “a privileged function?”
What we know and don’t know about the origin of life
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