The earliest traces of life on Earth in the form of single-celled organisms go back some 3.5 billion years. Almost 1.6 billion-year-old fossils that appear to contain red algae have been found by scientists in India. This may be the oldest plant-like life discovered on Earth, according to a study. Notably, no DNA can be analysed from the fossil but the material structurally bears a resemblance to the red algae, rooted in fossil mats of cyanobacteria, called stromatolites, inside a 1.6 billion-year-old Indian phosphorite.
Distinct structures at the centre of each cell wall are also apparent and are typical of red algae.
The fossil was discovered in sedimentary rocks at Chitrakoot in parts of central India.
Until now, the oldest known red algae were 1.2 billion years old, said reports. This discovery could enable researchers to rewrite the tree of life. “The ‘time of visible life’ seems to have begun much earlier than we thought,” said author Stefan Bengtson, professor emeritus of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
“You cannot be a hundred percent sure about material this ancient, as there is no DNA remaining, but the characters agree quite well with the morphology and structure of red algae,” he added.