Billion-year-old rocks reveal traces of ancient life

eukaryote vs prokaryote
eukaryote cell vs prokaryote cell

Plants, algae, fungi, and animals — including humans — are all eukaryotes: life forms with complex, nucleus-containing cells.

A recent discovery of organic compounds in ancient rocks in Australia helps illuminate the early history of eukaryotes, suggesting that this group was already abundant more than a billion years ago, according to a new study.

Eukaryotes are believed to date back 2 billion years, but scientists thought that they only became widespread about 800 million years ago, said Dr. Benjamin Nettersheim, one of the co-first authors of the study published in Nature.

However, newfound traces of molecules possibly produced by eukaryotes are up to 1.6 billion years old, which indicates “that early eukaryotes were already ecologically important for all this time,” said Nettersheim, who is a postdoctoral researcher in geobiology at the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen in Germany. “We just didn’t see their traces until now. They’ve kind of been hidden in plain sight.”

More in Nature and CNN

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