Complex life may have gotten a false start

This is a 1.9-billion-year-old stromatolite — or mound made by microbes that lived in shallow water — called the Gunflint Formation in northern Minnesota. Such formations provide evidence of oxygen-rich settings on ancient Earth.. (UW Photo / Eva Stüeken)

Researchers say multicellular life could have arisen in Earth’s oceans more than 2 billion years ago, only to fall victim to a drop in oxygen levels.

That scenario is based on a study of concentrations of the element selenium of sedimentary shale, led by researchers at the University of Washington. The findings – published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – shed light not only on the origins of life on Earth, but on the potential for detecting life on distant planets.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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