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World's Oldest Fossils Found In Australia

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the but-do-they-run-linux dept.

Australia 85

Dexter Herbivore sends this quote from the Washington Post: "Scientists analyzing Australian rocks have discovered traces of bacteria that lived a record-breaking 3.49 billion years ago, a mere billion years after Earth formed. If the find withstands the scrutiny that inevitably faces claims of fossils this old, it could move scientists one step closer to understanding the first chapters of life on Earth. The discovery could also spur the search for ancient life on other planets. These traces of bacteria 'are the oldest fossils ever described. Those are our oldest ancestors,' said Nora Noffke, a biogeochemist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk who was part of the group that made the find and presented it last month at a meeting of the Geological Society of America."

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Hopefully... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42448851)

Is this something that Curiosity is equipped to find?

(first post! Woot!)

Re:Hopefully... (2, Funny)

ae1294 (1547521) | about a year ago | (#42449023)

Is this something that Curiosity is equipped to find?

No Curiosity isn't equipped with "Scientists analyzing Australian rocks". Sorry maybe next go round...

Lightweight (5, Funny)

LordLucless (582312) | about a year ago | (#42448889)

I'm sure there's plenty of older ones in Canberra

Re:Lightweight (0)

johnsnails (1715452) | about a year ago | (#42449005)

lol

Re:Lightweight (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449031)

I believe the leader of the opposition disputes the scientists claims and wants the title for himself.

Its not exactly a secret (5, Funny)

ripnet (541583) | about a year ago | (#42448895)

Re:Its not exactly a secret (1)

AIXmaster (457997) | about a year ago | (#42449977)

I second this ;> ( you beat me to the punch )

The most intriguing aspect was... (0)

KrazyDave (2559307) | about a year ago | (#42448911)

.. that the bacteria fossils were persistently aligned into a pattern of a likeness of Mel Gibson.

Re:The most intriguing aspect was... (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#42453371)

.. that the bacteria fossils were persistently aligned into a pattern of a likeness of Mel Gibson.

What... not Rick Astley?

Not interesting (0)

satuon (1822492) | about a year ago | (#42448923)

While they are chronologically old, they probably aren't much different from modern bacteria. Bacteria's evolution finished so early that anything younger than 200-300 million years after life began would not tell us anything about its evolution.

Re:Not interesting (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42448997)

OK, so according to the summary there is 1000 million years between formation of Earth and theses fossils.
Assuming that first life wasn't created before Earth or after these bacteria then the interesting timespan covers 20-30% of this time.
Pretty good odds that this will tell us something about its evolution then.
If the 200-300 million years for evolution are reasonably certain and the fossils turns out to be fully evolved then this will help us pinpoint when life first started evolving.
I would say that regardless of the outcome Nora Noffke of Norfolk have some pretty interesting stuff here.

Re:Not interesting (5, Informative)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year ago | (#42449019)

It is really a mistake to think of the evolution of bacteria having ended at any point. They've been evolving just fine since they formed, as evidenced in part by your existence (not a joke, as you/we are derived from those early life forms). There is reasonable reason to believe that what we think of as bacteria (Eubacteria specifically) evolved after we (Eukaryotes) went our own way. At the time quoted, the atmosphere of our planet was significantly different than now, so the basic physiology of the 'bacteria' of the time would have been rather different than most 'bacteria' now.

Re:Not interesting (5, Informative)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about a year ago | (#42449057)

I was going to say more or less the same thing. Modern bacteria have completely different metabolisms, internal and external structures and materials from early anaerobic prokaryotes. To say that bacteria stopped evolving from that state would be deliberately ignorant/obtuse (since you'd essentially have to argue that animal life doesn't exist).

Re:Not interesting (4, Interesting)

satuon (1822492) | about a year ago | (#42449155)

Yes, but things like how DNA and ribosomes work, and the basic molecular machinery would have already been set in stone even in bacteria that old. All the rest is fine tuning to the current conditions and doesn't tell you much about the evolution of life.

It's the same as looking at the evolution of reptiles after the Mesozoic or the evolution of insects after the Paleozoic. Sure, there is some evolution, but the really interesting changes have already passed.

Re:Not interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449305)

That makes more sense than the way you said it the first time, because you're right that those particular features evolved very early and have probably been conserved in a broad sense ever since (i.e. tweaked, but basically similar). But given how little information is available on the earliest stages of bacterial evolution and how poorly constrained the timing of the early major biological events are, who knows? These fossils could be right in the middle of that process, and maybe it hadn't truly acquired its "modern" configuration until somewhat later.

What you originally said: "Bacteria's evolution finished so early..." is quite different from saying more specifically that ribosomes and DNA were established early.

Re:Not interesting (1)

satuon (1822492) | about a year ago | (#42450003)

I was replying to the "it could move scientists one step closer to understanding the first chapters of life on Earth" part of the summary.

Re:Not interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449307)

Yes, but things like how DNA and ribosomes work, and the basic molecular machinery would have already been set in stone even in bacteria that old. All the rest is fine tuning to the current conditions and doesn't tell you much about the evolution of life.

It's the same as looking at the evolution of reptiles after the Mesozoic or the evolution of insects after the Paleozoic. Sure, there is some evolution, but the really interesting changes have already passed.

And you know that how?

Re:Not interesting (4, Interesting)

Bowling Moses (591924) | about a year ago | (#42454259)

”Yes, but things like how DNA and ribosomes work, and the basic molecular machinery would have already been set in stone even in bacteria that old.”

Abiogenesis is thought to have taken place somewhere between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago and these traces of life (textures on the surface of sandstone that have altered C12/C13 ratios suggestive of life) are dated 3.49 billion years ago. Calling them bacteria, or even saying that they had DNA and/or ribosomes, may be presumptuous. They’re old enough that conditions of the RNA world hypothesis might still apply. They might not have DNA at all but use RNA (or something else) as genetic material. They might use RNA instead of proteins for catalysis, which could obviate the need for protein-building ribosomes. This life might not be cellular, could just be primitive liposomes that chaotically break and reform, briefly shielding some set of catalytic molecules that when you average them out over a large area—say a cubic millimeter—the whole system is able to keep functioning and making more of itself.

But let’s ignore all of that and say that this stuff, whatever it is, has DNA. Does it only use the four canonical bases or does it use them and/or something else? How good is it at keeping deoxyribonucleic acids from being used alongside ribonucleic acids, or is a mix important in some function(s) at this very early stage? Suppose it does use just the four canonical bases, and just the four (five) bases for RNA, and has ribosomes, and has the central dogma in place of DNA->RNA->protein. What’s the protein like? Is the universal* genetic code in place at this point? Are there just 20 amino acids, the same 20 currently in use, and are they encoded by triplet codons? After all valine, leucine, and isoleucine are pretty much the same as far as protein biochemistry is concerned and usually can substitute for each other with little or no impact, so why have all three? Could there be a different set of amino acids, one that is potentially encoded by pairs of codons or mixed pairs and triplets?

Let’s ignore all of that and say we’ve got life, actual cellular life, that uses DNA with just the four bases, with negligible confusion with RNA, that the mRNA and tRNA and ribosomes are all worked out (and ignoring ongoing evolution), with just the 20 amino acids using the universal* genetic code. Does this organism make its own cellular membrane? There’s a whole bunch of synthesis involved with making the components of a membrane. Does it use cholesterol or other steroids? A modern cell membrane has more than phospholipids. Does it have a cell wall? That’s a completely different set of questions as there are many different cell wall structures and components in modern prokaryotes. What is the energy source for these organisms? Are they heterotrophic? How? Are they photosynthetic? How? Are they sulfur-reducing prokaryotes? How? Are they predatory? Do they secrete chemical compounds that lyse their neighboring prokaryotes? How?

It’s trivially easy to ask questions about basic chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics when it comes to these organisms, assuming of course we would grant them as being alive, when we’re dealing with something from 3.49 billion years ago. I do not necessarily agree with “fine tuning” either since there are geologically short periods of time that witness tremendous changes in life forms. The emergence of aerobic life about 2.5 billion years ago is one such point; oxygen would likely have been poisonous to the life forms in TFA. The emergence of eukaryotes about 1.6-2.1 billion years ago would be another, as would multicellular life appearing shortly afterwards. Throughout all of this the archaea, bacteria, and/or their ancestors would be present, and would be evolving in response to their changing environment.

I happen to have done some work in entomology so I have to mention insect evolution. The Paleozoic period is 541 to about 250 million years ago. The oldest definitive insect fossil is Rhyniognatha hirsti and dates to about 400 million years ago, about the same time that the first terrestrial ecosystems were being formed. Beetles didn’t emerge until 300 million years ago and there are now nearly 400,000 known species. 220 million years ago—well after the Paleozoic—the mosquito and the house fly diverged. The diet, ecology, reproductive strategies, and mouth parts of modern mosquitoes and house flies are radically different. I’ve done work on mosquitoes and their evolution is (unfortunately for half the world’s population) very interesting. They are arguably the worst spreaders of disease, being vectors of malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile, several different encephalitis-causing viruses, and heartworm. Insecticide resistance is exploding and speciations are being observed in disease vector mosquitoes. Climate change is permitting formerly tropical mosquitoes to move into new territories and new speciation events are inevitable. Sure someone could protest that they’re still bugs with six legs, but then humans and turtles are still just tetrapods and those have been around for almost as long as insects.

great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42457545)

now maybe Darwin was wrong on some stuff, hell we may have formed out of rocks an star stuff kool. they need to maybe speckulate little more than they do now. we the people known we came from outer space an star stuff why cant the smart people think that way. well i got beam to the moon see you all later. bob

Re:great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42460451)

why cant the smart people think that way

maybe less drugs?

Re:Not interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42478949)

I think your conception of early life is on the money.

This year thermodynamics of replicators advanced so much that it predicted that RNA is the currently only known heteromer capable of initial non-enzymatic replication. (DNA et cetera are too stable to pass the heat bound set by entropic forces; RNA is stable long enough, ~ 4 years before hydrolyzation.) (England; paper in review AFAIK; preprint on arxiv.)

Other workers could also predict that a pool of RNA heteromers supplied with activated monomers (NPAs) will crystallize into replicators within ~ 30 000 years. Again entropically forced so the pathway as opposed to earlier proposed can't stall. (Woo et al; PLOS Comp Biol.)

What is needed then is a supply of triphosphate and an initial way to activate the monomers, something that alkaline vents posed over subduction (today plate tectonics) gives. And liposomes, which would be a locally fitness enhancing vessel (as free circulating pools dilute faster) and globally make for spread to the next vent before a vent dies of old age (today ~ 100 000 years max), which are built by vent produced lipids.

The LHB rate was something like 1 per 10 000 year @ 20 km. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Heavy_Bombardment ] This local damage (not crust buster sized) would leave room for the above replicators to arise and spread.

But more likely they arose before LHB and survived it, while slowly evolving redox driven metabolic capability to capture carbon dioxide and produce activated monomers around and finally outside of vents.

An interesting pathway from replicating to genetic hereditary machinery was recently given by Zenkin ( J Mol Evol), conforming with early code being random and used in a minimal brownian ratchet RNA micro-machine chaperone solely to prevent annealing under low-temperature replication. Coevolution with protein enzymatic function for recycling et cetera was spontaneous but unavoidable as long proteins would tend to gunk up cells. The pathway is entirely survivable small step, fitness driven darwinian.

Re:Not interesting (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479175)

I never noted that I posted that anonymously. Silly me. But now I'm a slashdot trainee.

Re:Not interesting (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year ago | (#42454269)

I would wager that the fine-tuning to current conditions is all that the evolution of life is and as such is the only part that tells anything about it.

The idea that living things of that time would have already had the basics of our molecular machinery is a hypothesis. We have no way to know if living things from that era used the same systems that we now do, rather than something simpler and less efficient. The majority of them could have used entirely different molecular systems, only to later be dramatically out-competed by a relative latecomer that we derive from.

Even now there are variations in the basic molecular machinery used by different organisms. Some organisms have genomes that are de-compressed (as in information compression, not physical compaction) before being translated into proteins, most don't. Many organisms don't use the same DNA coding scheme that you use. Many organisms use alternate DNA bases, totaling to more than four base-pair combinations that are biologically important. Many don't use histones, while others do. Some have cytoskeletons composed of actin and tubulin fibers, some don't.

----

Under some reasonable models of abiogenesis, the central metabolic circuits intrinsic to all living things developed before living things had DNA or cell membranes. Cells could easily have formed and been actively 'alive' without having any sort of central genetic molecule (they would have been less efficient at replicating themselves). As such, it is perfectly possible that the fossils being discussed came from cells which explicitly did not share much of our core molecular systems.

We can learn things from early biology that we do not expect, but we won't learn things from early biology if we simply assume that we know what was going on. (This is a general statement that applies to all of scientific endeavor.)

Re:Not interesting (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year ago | (#42454395)

As well, the bacteria that you think of are rather distinctly newcomers on the biology scene and differ in much of their basic machinery from the bacteria we derived from. If you want to study the bacterial types that we derived from, you need to examine what are now referred to as the Archaea. This indicates there were major evolutionary shifts within bacteria since the time we went our own direction as Eukaryotes (estimated to be from 2.0 to 3.5 Bya), which is a negative mark to your central thesis of "not much of significance has happened to bacteria since 3.5 Bya".

Re:Not interesting (1)

snowjest (638941) | about a year ago | (#42455033)

I agree, Its not what this fossil can say about evolution that is important, but rather what it might say about how life started in the first place. At some point something interesting must have happened to create something that could harness the energy and chemicals in its environment to make copies of itself. Once that started, evolution was inevitable.

You're probably not descended from them (1)

billstewart (78916) | about a year and a half ago | (#42472919)

You might be, but they're more likely to be either evolutionary dead ends or things that other current species are descended from but not mammals. Why? Just numbers, most species that ever existed died out, and there were a number of huge die-backs that killed off large fractions of Earth's life forms.

But as the parent posted says, it's a mistake to think of the evolution of bacteria as having stopped.

Re:Not interesting (4, Interesting)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#42449107)

So tell me why there are bacteria, which can only exist in our guts? We didn't exist 200-300 mio years ago. So how can a lifeform, whose evolution stopped 200-300 mio years ago, suddenly be adapted solely to an environment forming just 65,000 years ago? No, the evolution of bacteria continues and continues and doesn't stop at an arbitrary point in time.

Re:Not interesting (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year ago | (#42449179)

Considering that bacteria replicate by cell division, how quickly they reproduce (a "Generation" can mean a few seconds, food provided) and that with every multiplication the chance for gene errors grow (especially with Prokaryotes, something this bacterium is almost certainly), and if you factor in the survival of the fittest theory, i.e. that bacteria with a beneficial mutation grow while the inferior ones (i.e. the older, not mutated) perish, I'd say the chance that this is even similar to current bacteria is VERY slim. It's the "prototype", it's closer to the point where everything started (because the superior mutations would have wiped out the inferior ones, which this bacterium almost certainly is).

Re:Not interesting (2)

NetRanger (5584) | about a year ago | (#42450577)

Not to nitpick, but "survival of the fittest" is one of the greatest misconceptions out there. A male peacock without huge plumes would be far more efficient in mobility. But since the plumage attracts females, the selection pressure is tilted in a direction having little to do with direct survival characteristics. Indeed we often do NOT see the "fittest" survive, but rather species that specialize and carve out little niches. This also explains why the biodiversity we observe exists.

Re:Not interesting (2)

mopower70 (250015) | about a year ago | (#42451031)

Your understanding of "survival of the fittest" is flawed. "Fittest" does not mean "fitness" to do battle with the environment, it means fit to reproduce. A male peacock who is highly mobile yet fails to attract a mate will not pass on its genes. A male peacock who can't move but attracts females who bring him food, protect him, and reproduce with him is considerably more "fit" to survive. In fact, he'd just be a level 90 Paladin away from living a lot of people's dream life.

Re:Not interesting (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | about a year ago | (#42452871)

His criticism makes more sense if you understand that "fittest" is intended for a species, not an individual. This is, for example, almost certainly why homosexuality exists as a frequent phenotype. It helps the *species* out, even if it's not particularly fit for the individual (i.e., can't reproduce). Having more caregivers in a social species gives the species an edge as long as the non-reproducing members don't take away too many scare resources from the reproducing ones.

-l

Re:Not interesting (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#42453431)

Having more caregivers in a social species gives the species an edge as long as the non-reproducing members don't take away too many scare resources from the reproducing ones.

Ahh... that explains the USA's edge. It's the scare resources :D

Re:Not interesting (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | about a year ago | (#42453475)

Ha! Thanks. The letter c appears to be getting scare.

-l

Re:Not interesting (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year ago | (#42449899)

Bacteria's evolution finished so early

Why is this modded informative? Bacteria did not, and have not, stopped evolving and their sheer numbers mean they do it a lot faster than mammals do. A simple, modern, amoeba has something like 200X the number of genes found in human DNA.

Re:Not interesting (1)

cybervegan (1440999) | about a year ago | (#42450249)

Bacteria have NOT stopped evolving (nor has anything else). Evolution is a constant process anyway, but for specific proof, new strains of infectious bacterial diseases are constantly appearing - this is evolution. For a specific example, the use of Penecillin and similar anti-biotics has been an evolutionary selector for microbes that are capable of surviving these drugs - where we now have certain "superbugs" which have evolved from "normal" bacteria. In this case, humans have influenced the process of natural selection, and the result is that only those fit to survive Penecillin have survived in these environments. That's how evolution works.

Re:Not interesting (1)

satuon (1822492) | about a year ago | (#42450877)

You didn't understand what I meant by evolution - I meant the development of DNA, RNA, ribosomes, etc. evolved. Those things aren't evolving now, they're already set in stone, and new superbugs aren't telling us anything about the origins of life.

Re:Not interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42450935)

Wow, you know nothing about Evolution.

Re:Not interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42478265)

While they are chronologically old, they probably aren't much different from modern bacteria. Bacteria's evolution finished so early that anything younger than 200-300 million years after life began would not tell us anything about its evolution.

That is not what the protein fold family and protein family phylogenies predict. The first are (thus far) self-dating by a molecular clock proxy, and get the domain diversification rather late. The second can be correlated with the geochemical record (metabolic innovations), and get an Archaean expansion right after these finds IIRC. The facts will supposedly meet somewhere in between, but these finds are most likely stem forms (i.e. extinct forms).

Also, life can have started very early. Mojszics [sp?] et al shows how cellular life forms, even mesophiles, easily survive the crustal sterilization rate of Late Heavy Bombardment. They propagate and disperse faster than such sterilizers can keep up. Even crust busters are survivable in a Goldilock crustal zone ~ 1 km down. Life is a plaque on a planet.

Re:Not interesting (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479333)

Another inadvertent anonymous posting. /slashdot trainee.

FAKE (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42448961)

Again with this billion years shit! ROFL

Re:FAKE (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year ago | (#42449203)

Again with this billion years shit! ROFL

It doesn't smell a day over a million.

Re:FAKE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42450621)

Hi Sarah Palin

Of Course (1)

Barsteward (969998) | about a year ago | (#42449011)

its where all the UK's old entertainers go to retire.....

Correctian (-1, Troll)

Kerstyun (832278) | about a year ago | (#42449119)

have discovered traces of bacteria that lived a record-breaking 3.49 billion years ago, a mere billion years after Earth formed.

That should read ''3.480 004 000 year's BEFORE"

Re:Correctian (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year ago | (#42449195)

I have a great idea, let's stay out of each other's way. You have your believes, I have my science, and everyone's happy.

Re:Correctian (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449745)

Sure, just don't get in the way of my belief that evolution and the big bang are Lies Straight From the Pit Of Hell [yahoo.com] when I'm setting the agenda for the country.

Re:Correctian (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about a year ago | (#42451265)

At first I was worried when I read Athens, then I sighed in relief when I noticed it's the one in Georgia.

Makes sense. In Europe, he'd be laughed out of his office (and his party would instantly move a BIG distance to him) if he really said things like this and kept a straight face.

But hey, I'm all for the US becoming the Christian version of the Iran. More legroom for us Euros when your science grinds to a halt.

Like I said. Keep your faith, we'll keep our science.

Re:Correctian (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42453031)

People in the U.S. were also worried. Broun was widely mocked here too, and there's no way he could get elected in most states. I have no idea what's up with Georgia that they would keep this guy in office. Science is still winning in the U.S.

Re:Correctian (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449527)

BEFORE WHAT!!?? Ouch, my sensitive fictional ears!

Re:Correctian (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42452917)

The sheer number of errors, logical and grammatical, condensed into such a short post is staggering. You are either an accomplished troll, or the very worst argument for Creationism I have seen in a long, long time.

Either way, keep up the good work.

Unpossible! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449121)

The earth is 4000 years old... and flat!

Why couldn't it be fossil fuel (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449133)

I want to be rich!

No way, buddy no way. (-1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#42449261)

John McCain is an American. No way he is found in Australia.

Fossils of bacteria eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449331)

How about some fossils of earliest atoms in the Galaxy?

Or petrified benzoate molecules?

Then, on the macro scale, we can move to fossilized planets.

Re:Fossils of bacteria eh? (1)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#42450105)

Of the earliest atoms in the Galaxy we have plenty, they are called Hydrogenium atoms. As they just consist of an electron and a proton, and an electron is (as far as we know) elementar, and a proton seems not to decay into other particles (experiments have shown a life span of more than 10^32 seconds without decay, which means protons stay stable for far longer than the Universe, whose age is a mere 10^18 seconds), it means that basicly all Hydrogenium atoms today formed just a few moments after the Big Bang.

Re:Fossils of bacteria eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42450647)

No one has called it "hydrogenium" since we stopped classifying it as a metal, making the suffix inappropriate. Well, except homeopathy nutjobs. The rest of us just refer to individual hydrogen atoms as nascent or atomic hydrogen,

Re:Fossils of bacteria eh? (1)

Sique (173459) | about a year ago | (#42450859)

Hydrogenium is half greek (hydro-) and half latin (-genium) and means "water creator", which is a completely cromulent name for the element. Where the strange notion comes from, that the ending "-um" or "-ium" means a metal is beyond me. Wolfram, bismut and cobalt have no -um ending and are metals, while helium has the -um ending and is a noble gas. So I call this bullshit. Come back when we call the noble gas "hel".

Re:Fossils of bacteria eh? (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#42453463)

Hydrogenium is half greek (hydro-) and half latin (-genium) and means "water creator", which is a completely cromulent name for the element. Where the strange notion comes from, that the ending "-um" or "-ium" means a metal is beyond me. Wolfram, bismut and cobalt have no -um ending and are metals, while helium has the -um ending and is a noble gas.
So I call this bullshit.
Come back when we call the noble gas "hel".

Yeah; I can't get helium to freeze either.

Re:Fossils of bacteria eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42452005)

The vast majority of hydrogen atoms around today probably have protons and electrons that have been around since a short time after the big bang. The atoms themselves have likely been ionized many, many times since and exchanged electrons etc. (and even if not, most took many thousands of years after the big bang to de-iononize the first time). Also, some portion of the protons have been involved in fusion reactions that ejected them from larger atoms. So a portion of hydrogen atoms are not "original," for various definitions of what it means to be an original hydrogen atom. But it doesn't really matter in the end, as they are all essentially identical, and what matters more is relative proportions between hydrogen (well, protium, ignoring deuterium in the first part of this post), deuterium, and heavier isotopes and elements.

How Old? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449337)

I didn't RTF, but how did they determine age for something like that, which Carbon-14, I think, couldn't date?

Re:How Old? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449457)

Probably tree rings.

Re:How Old? (5, Informative)

Guido von Guido II (2712421) | about a year ago | (#42449477)

The article doesn't actually say and the Washington Post just links to the article abstract, but C-14 dating isn't used except for recent material because of its small half-life. There are a wide variety of methods used for older rocks (see here [wikipedia.org] ). For instance, rubidium-strontium dating might be used, since rubidium-87 has a half life of 50 billion years. Rubidium-strontium can be used for isochron dating [wikipedia.org] as well, which doesn't require any assumptions about the amount of the daughter nuclide in the sample.

Having said that, I don't have any details on the methods actually used to date rocks in this particular region.

Re:How Old? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449499)

With some radioactive shit or its byproducts

Re:How Old? (2)

rwise2112 (648849) | about a year ago | (#42449765)

They would have dated the rocks these fossils were found in. C-14 dating is only good for relatively recent dating (up to ~60000 yrs). They probably used K-Ar or U-Pb dating, although there are a few more options [wikipedia.org] .

Re:How Old? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42453411)

I don't know, but based on the usual techniques for rocks that old, it is probably U/Pb [wikipedia.org] , K/Ar [wikipedia.org] , and/or Rb/Sr [wikipedia.org] . U/Pb performed on zircon crystals is the most reliable in that age range, but depending upon the minerals present in the rocks and what they've experienced since their formation, the other two could work as well. All of those techniques use isotopic systems with much longer half-lives than C-14. Typically the half-lives are hundreds of millions to billions of years.

Those are our oldest ancestors? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449431)

The article contains the comment "Those are our oldest ancestors". That got me thinking... Since bacteria are asexual and reproduce by division then, technically, the ancestor of two bacteria was destroyed when it split into it's two children. If this is true then any fossilised bacteria must, since they are dead and in one piece not two, not have reproduced. If they didn't reproduce they can't be the ancestors of anything...

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42449497)

But their twins could be.

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (2)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about a year ago | (#42449813)

What the article discusses is the age of a rock formation that appears to have been caused by bacterial activity, not any direct structural remnant of the bacteria themselves.

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#42449945)

so this is the oldest known poop every discovered?

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (2)

AlecC (512609) | about a year ago | (#42450051)

For poop, you need a bowel. Which was not invented until the Cambrian, or just before, about 540 million years ago. So these bacteria pre-date any poop, let alone discovered poop, by getting on for three billion years.

Yes, once upon a time the world was not full of shit. Back then, shit didn't happen.

No shit, Sherlock.

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#42450021)

The same issue exists, albeit to a smaller extent, with any fossil. There's no guarantee that an individual that reproduced will be fossilised, or vice versa.

So much data on our planet's history is lost to the bitter march of time. But we're winning! Eat that, time!

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

drdrgivemethenews (1525877) | about a year ago | (#42452685)

I had a similar thought. Granted that we share the same molecular machinery, but it seems to me that we probably evolved from the hosts the bacteria fed on, not from the bacteria themselves. Unless they ate rock, in which case we evolved from the hosts their mutations ("descendants") fed on. For me, the jump from asexual to sexual reproduction is the really interesting inflection point. Do we really believe that an ordinary mutation caused that? (IANAE).

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479519)

Bacteria has a lot of interesting sexual (or sexual like) traits, like sharing chromosomes by way of membrane tunnels. So something like it has evolved many times over. But evolution doesn't use "hopeful monsters" (macroscale mutations), but proceeds mostly along darwinian pathways: small, survivable, on average fitness increasing steps. (See near neutral genetic drift and genetic bottlenecks for variation driven pathways.)

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

rtb61 (674572) | about a year and a half ago | (#42457461)

Why would the original be defined as destroyed in splitting, that is illogical. You have an original living mass, which internal reproduces a copy of it's inner functions and DNA. The internalised copy is then ejected within a new cell wall. You always have the original up until something consumes it or it is destroyed via any one of countless methods.

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479585)

In fact, the original (parent) usually ages as we do, as its continuing "half cap" membrane + associated cellular machinery will accumulate cellular damage and die after some ~ 200 divisions. (Seen in some experiments on modern bacteria.)

Re:Those are our oldest ancestors? (1)

jc42 (318812) | about a year and a half ago | (#42471381)

That got me thinking... Since bacteria are asexual and reproduce by division then, ...

That's where you went wrong. Bacteria do have a sexual reproduction process, though mostly they produce by division. Their sexual process is a lot different than ours, but it does involve two bacteria joining cell membranes, exchanging and mixing up portions of their DNA, making a few copies, and then splitting up into cells that contain mixtures of both parents' DNA. This has the usual survival advantage: The offspring that have a "better" combination of genes will do better than the other half of the offspring, and their descendants will have the improved combination of genes.

This sexual reproduction process is generally called "conjugation". Google it for further information. The process has some interesting features that are rather different from our reproductive process. One feature is that many bacteria have small pieces of DNA called plasmids that they can "donate" to others via conjugation. In this special case, one bacterium essentially gives a copy of the plasmid to another bacterium that lacks it. This is known to be used to transfer genes that implement resistance to toxic substances (e.g., antibiotics) among a population of similar bacteria. We can't donate our genes to another living human that lacks them, but many bacteria can. Sometimes this even happens between species that aren't close relatives.

...and they're deadly! (1)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | about a year ago | (#42449961)

Like everything else down under, these bacteria coulf kill with big, nasty teeth, poisonous spines, and deadly venom.

NO, people! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42450371)

They are talking about the Australian government leaders.

So are we closer to an answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42451709)

Which came first: the nucleus or the cell wall?

Re:So are we closer to an answer... (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479837)

? Bacteria has sturdy cell walls as ancestral trait (cf mycobacteria who lack it), eukaryotes with nucleus have only membranes.

Panspermia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42452717)

We keep moving back the clock of the first signs of life closer and closer to when Earth was even able to support life. We also continue to find just how complex even the simplest life has to be. At one point I thought maybe Complexity Theory had some explanation of how life could evolve from non-life on Earth in a timely manner, but alas so far no progress.

The simplest explanation at this time is that life arrived from space and likely continues to do so at some rate.

Re:Panspermia (1)

Torbjorn Larsson, OM (2808571) | about a year and a half ago | (#42479875)

Unlikely. See my longish comment above how ~ 30 000 years is now known to suffice until cellular ancestors arise. They only need 2 individually self-assembling and spontaneously replicating components, liposomes and the thermodynamically driven crystallising RNA replicators. For example, Mars with its mere ~ 3 million year until accretion got a head start on Earth with its ~ 30 - 300 million years (latest core formation theories) had an impactor tramway of material raining down on Earth as it formed. Calculate cellular mass content of average crust and its survivability under launch impact and shortest route to Earth (all researched and published, thankfully). Even if the martian tramway delivery rate was order of magnitude larger than today's ~ 200 kg/year estimate, you don't get the average delivery rate of 1 (one) surviving cell up to the above abiogenesis rate. I don't think we can reject the possibility at 3 sigma, but the simplest pathway of "in-house assembly" is the superior at 1-2 sigma. As for incoming life at later times, we don't see it in mass sequencing. Indeed, it would have a hard survive will already adapted life makes lunch out of it.

panspermia doesn't suffice (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about a year ago | (#42452981)

With the quick appearance of algae on Earth, it makes it seems as if basic life as cyanobacteria evolves quickly from chemicals or else evolved slowly some other place but survives the depths of space (which is possible).

However, panspermia doesn't explain multi-cellular life or backbones, something that didn't happen until just recently in the timescale, less than 500 million years. Bacterial life may arise almost spontaneously across the galaxy but advanced life obviously takes more doing. We aren't even off the planet yet. (Off the planet means establishing a self-sustaining colony someplace else).

Just for laughs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42454613)

Jesus did it.

World's Oldest Fossils Found In Australia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42464899)

So how many "greats" would that add to "grandpa"?

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