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November 11, 2010

Scottish scientists redefine starting point of evolution

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by Darren Allan

Life evolved on Earth from simple organisms, catalysed by a shift in oxygen levels in the atmosphere which allowed them to develop into multi-cellular entities. Eventually, these evolved into animals, plants and ourselves.

Previously, it was thought that this shift of evolutionary gears happened around 800 million years ago. However, scientists from Aberdeen university have uncovered evidence from rocks they’ve studied that this first step on the evolutionary ladder occurred about 1.2 billion years ago, the Independent reports.

In other words, 400 million years earlier than thought, which is quite a jump backwards. The leader of the research team at Aberdeen university, Professor John Parnell, told the newspaper: “Investigations revealed that these bacteria, which on a basic level use sulphur to obtain energy, were also using oxygen in a much more complex and efficient chemical reaction in order to generate their energy and survive.”

“Evidence of this chemical reaction tells us that the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere were at this key point for evolution, at this much earlier stage in Earth’s history. Our findings, which shift this key point in the evolution of life on Earth to a much earlier date than previously proven, will give impetus to further investigations into the timescale of the development of complex life, which followed this event.”

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