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Plants represent an oxygen mask for Earth. They are factories of oxygen that run on light, carbon dioxide, and water through the process of photosynthesis. The scientific world believed that they first appeared around 1,200 million years ago in the form of algal scum. However, a team of Swedish scientists might have changed history as we know it. They have just found fossils of a plant similar to red algae that are at least 1.6 billion old. This plant ancestor is proof that major multicellular life appeared earlier than it was believed.
The Recently Discovered Fossils Represent the Oldest Known Plant Ancestor
This scientific discovery does not affect only the history of plants. On the contrary, it concerns all creatures alike, including humans. Plants pertain to the kingdom of photosynthetic eukaryotes. Eukaryote is a primitive branch of life, yet it played an important role in the development of humans. The recently discovered plant ancestor settles the beginning of life itself on Earth much earlier. This study can be a true life changer.
The paper appeared on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology. The fossils of the plant ancestor were found in the sedimentary rocks in India. They are about 1.6 billion years old, and they share complex similarities with red algae. This is not the first time scientists found signs of life in such a distant period of time. However, what makes this discovery unique is that these sources of life are complex and have eukaryotic cells. This means that the evolution of multicellular life happened much earlier than previously thought.
The Proterozoic Era Can Now Be Viewed as a Flourishing Period for Eukaryotes
The lead author of the study, Stefan Bengtson, works as a paleozoologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He stated that this plant ancestor is only the beginning of a recalibration of the tree of life. If such complex form of life was possible in the Proterozoic era, it means that there are high chances of other types of forms to have evolved sooner than scientists thought.
Scientists believe that eukaryotic life didn’t develop earlier than the Cambrian explosion, which was set around 500 million years ago. However, if the new fossil is a specimen of red algae, it means that it has much older ancestors in its turn. This can signify that eukaryotic life started more than 2.3 billion years ago.
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