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The earliest known life forms on Earth are putative fossilized microorganisms found in hydrothermal vent precipitates.[1] The earliest time that life forms first appeared on Earth is unknown. They may have lived earlier than 3.77 billion years ago, possibly as early as 4.28 billion years ago,[1] not long after the oceans formed 4.41 billion years ago, and not long after the formation of the Earth 4.54 billion years ago.[1][2][3][4] A life form, or lifeform, is an entity or being that is living.[5][6]

Contents

OverviewEdit

Earth remains the only place in the universe known to harbor life forms.[7][8]

More than 99% of all species of life forms, amounting to over five billion species,[9] that ever lived on Earth are estimated to be extinct.[10][11]

 
Example of archaea, prokaroytic microbes, first found in extreme environments, such as volcanic hot springs.

Estimates on the number of Earth's current species of life forms range from 10 million to 14 million,[12] of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86 percent have not yet been described.[13] More recently, in May 2016, scientists reported that 1 trillion species are estimated to be on Earth currently with only one-thousandth of one percent described.[14] The total amount of related DNA base pairs on Earth is estimated at 5.0 x 1037 and weighs 50 billion tonnes.[15] In comparison, the total mass of the biosphere has been estimated to be as much as 4 TtC (trillion tons of carbon).[16] In July 2016, scientists reported identifying a set of 355 genes from the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of all organisms living on Earth.[17]

Life forms live in every part of the Earth's biosphere, including soil, hot springs, inside rocks at least 19 km (12 mi) deep underground, the deepest parts of the ocean, and at least 64 km (40 mi) high in the atmosphere.[18][19][20] Under certain test conditions, life forms have been observed to thrive in the vacuum of outer space.[21][22] Life forms appear to thrive in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the Earth's oceans.[23][24] Other researchers reported related studies that life forms thrive inside rocks up to 580 m (1,900 ft; 0.36 mi) below the sea floor under 2,590 m (8,500 ft; 1.61 mi) of ocean off the coast of the northwestern United States,[23][25] as well as 2,400 m (7,900 ft; 1.5 mi) beneath the seabed off Japan.[26] In August 2014, scientists confirmed the existence of life forms living 800 m (2,600 ft; 0.50 mi) below the ice of Antarctica.[27][28] According to one researcher, "You can find microbes everywhere — they're extremely adaptable to conditions, and survive wherever they are."[23]

Earliest life formsEdit

 
Evidence of possibly the oldest forms of life on Earth have been found in hydrothermal vent precipitates.[1][2]

Fossil evidence from the Earth informs most studies of the origin of life (or abiogenesis). The age of the Earth is about 4.54 billion years;[29][30][31] the earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates from at least 3.5 billion years ago,[32][33][34] and possibly as early as the Eoarchean Era, after geological crust started to solidify following the molten Hadean Eon. In May 2017, evidence of the earliest known life on land may have been found in 3.48 billion-year-old geyserite and other related mineral deposits (often found around hot springs and geysers) uncovered in the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia.[35][36]

Microbial mat fossils have been found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone in Western Australia.[37][38][39] Other early physical evidence of biogenic substances includes graphite,[40] and possibly stromatolites,[41] discovered in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks in southwestern Greenland. "Remains of biotic life" have been found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia.[42]

In recent years, there have been a number of discoveries that suggested the earliest appearance of life on Earth was even earlier in time. In 2017, putative fossilized microorganisms (or microfossils) were announced to have been discovered in hydrothermal vent precipitates in the Nuvvuagittuq Belt of Quebec, Canada that may be as old as 4.28 billion years old, the oldest record of life on Earth, suggesting "an almost instantaneous emergence of life" after ocean formation 4.41 billion years ago, and not long after the formation of the Earth 4.54 billion years ago.[1][2][3][4] According to biologist Stephen Blair Hedges, "If life arose relatively quickly on Earth … then it could be common in the universe."[42]

GalleryEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit