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Tree of Life: 1.6 Billion-Year-Old Fossils Found in India Could Be the Oldest Plant Life on Earth

It’s likely to be an invaluable clue into the evolution of life itself.

A study published in the journal PLOS Biology has noted that fossils of a particular kind of plant have been unearthed in Chitrakoot, India, that researchers state are 1.6 billion years old. This would essentially make these fossils the earliest-known plants on this planet.

Up until now, the oldest known plants were the 1.2 billion-year-old fossils that had been found in the Canadian Arctic. The study notes that this discovery could potentially change a lot of long-held beliefs about when and how complex life began on the planet.

The fossils found, according to this study, belong to two types of red algae. Unfortunately, having been thoroughly fossilised, there is no DNA left that can be analysed by scientists.

But the scientists were able to identify them as forms of red algae by studying their shape, and their cellular structures.

Image for representation. Photo source: Wikimedia 

But there are far-reaching repercussions to this discovery. Highlighting its significance, the Hindustan Times has quoted Therese Sallstedt, the Swedish Museum of Natural History geobiologist who helped lead the study, as saying, “Plants have a key role for life on Earth, and we show here that they were considerably older than what we knew, which has a ripple effect on our appreciation of when advanced life forms appeared on the evolutionary scene.”

The red algae is a primitive form of plant-life that is found in marine settings. One of the types of this red algae is called nori, which is used in making sushi. As Sallstedt wryly jokes, ““We almost could have had sushi 1.6 billion years ago.”


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Chitrakoot, which is located in central India, is a region where there are phosphate-rich sedimentary rocks. While science has placed the beginning of multi-cellular organisms at 600 million years ago, the earliest signs of life (in the form of single-celled organisms) goes back 3.5 billion years.

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