Did Life On Earth Start With A Single Ocean-Sized Mega-Creature?

lucaFile this under we-are-all-connected: three billion years ago, life on Earth may have been a global mega-organism called LUCA, from which all living things today are descended. Can we get an artist’s rending of this colossal being?  New Scientist writes:

ONCE upon a time, 3 billion years ago, there lived a single organism called LUCA. It was enormous: a mega-organism like none seen since, it filled the planet’s oceans before splitting into three and giving birth to the ancestors of all living things on Earth today.

This strange picture is emerging from efforts to pin down the last universal common ancestor – not the first life that emerged on Earth but the life form that gave rise to all others.

The latest results suggest LUCA was the result of early life’s fight to survive, attempts at which turned the ocean into a global genetic swap shop for hundreds of millions of years. Cells struggling to survive on their own exchanged useful parts with each other without competition – effectively creating a global mega-organism.

It was around 2.9 billion years ago that LUCA split into the three domains of life: the single-celled bacteria and archaea, and the more complex eukaryotes that gave rise to animals and plants (see timeline). It’s hard to know what happened before the split. Hardly any fossil evidence remains from this time, and any genes that date that far back are likely to have mutated beyond recognition.

That isn’t an insuperable obstacle to painting LUCA’s portrait, says Gustavo Caetano-Anollés of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While the sequence of genes changes quickly, the three-dimensional structure of the proteins they code for is more resistant to the test of time. So if all organisms today make a protein with the same overall structure, he says, it’s a good bet that the structure was present in LUCA.

76 Comments on "Did Life On Earth Start With A Single Ocean-Sized Mega-Creature?"

  1. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    This just sounds like a creation myth……………

  2. MoralDrift | Nov 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm |

    This just sounds like a creation myth……………

  3. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm |

    I think I need some of that Talmadge Lacy characters acid.

  4. I think I need some of that Talmadge Lacy characters acid.

  5. anyone who raises and breeds lifeforms knows that mutations are usually one offs that usually weaken, rather than strengthen, the gene pool, a strange irony considering that they are considered the engine of survival.

  6. anyone who raises and breeds lifeforms knows that mutations are usually one offs that usually weaken, rather than strengthen, the gene pool, a strange irony considering that they are considered the engine of survival.

    • Calypso_1 | Nov 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

      Unless those who are doing such rearing happen to be microbiologists or geneticists, then you might find a decidedly different viewpoint.

      • yeah, I know, its just that none of these has led, as of yet, to a whole new species, in the little time we have had in this study anyways….

        • Calypso_1 | Nov 30, 2011 at 5:16 pm |

          oh, i’d say Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 is pretty damn close –   the first synthetic genome.   Human intervention must be considered an element in genetic evolution – if polydnavirus’s are allowed to mutate species to their own ends so can we. 
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026460/

          • interesting, this seems more like forcing the issue however, rather than allowing a natural progression in a natural setting, considering we are living in the Holocene, seems as though none can escape our grasp enough to mutate into a species that can survive us.

          • microviolence | Dec 1, 2011 at 4:16 am |

            evolution is evolution, forced or not

          • Roscoe The Wonder Pony | Dec 1, 2011 at 7:39 am |

            Um… ever hear of the flu? Around the world, influenza viruses are constantly mutating, becoming resistant to each vaccine we humans come up with. Swine Flu, Avian Flu etc are just a few examples of new species and new organisms. Evolution is a continuous process and quite observable, if you choose to look honestly at nature to see it.
            If you don’t accept this basic scientific truth, then don’t get a flu shot.

          • Don’t get a flu shot anyways! Do you know whats actually in those shots? 

          • you might not want to know this, but I havent had a flu shot in 15 years, since high school. but my resting heart rate is the same, in the 40s

          • Calypso_1 | Dec 1, 2011 at 10:57 am |

            The confines of the ‘petri dish’ are no more an unnatural environment than then cell.  Any aspect of nature, be it a microclimate/ecosystem or biological/chemical boundary, creates a separation in the environment where differentiation of processes can be maintained. A chemical reaction, formally randomized, becomes concentrated and eventually catalyzed.  Containment brings thermodynamic equilibrium thus ordered states.  Coherence propagates and superposition emerges in peptides and eventually enzymes –  The quantum domain extending throughout the chemical becoming biological through ordered self-reference, thus quantum measurement and self-replication through information exchange.  Life is inherent in the physical nature of the universe –   Consciousness emerging from macrocosmic quantum condensations. 
                 Many species alter the environment to enhance their well-being.  Nesting, predatory  traps, cultivation of food species, all of these have led to incredible forms of symbiosis. 
            Homo sapiens, utilizing his natural, emergent consciousness, adapts the environment, not only as an ecosystem, but at the core of its building blocks.  What emerged from the foundations now peers back into itself….and there is nothing unnatural or artificial about this.  Can it be unbalanced? – Without a doubt, and from here stems the fears of the ‘unnatural’. We can, however choose to engage in this process in a way that is not pathological but in greater harmony with the world.  It’s our choice of destiny as a species – do we want to be a cancer or the mind of Gaia.

          • all good points, Im just stubborn mainly because  I personally like to leave things open ended. humans have studied many things since their birth, and have recorded everything, sometimes the obvious intelligence behind the words leads me to think things over. From experience and observation, things have proven to be dynamic, even our own history, our philosophies. personally I ascribe to the belief of intent, in my own point of view, the evolution you all speak of. do not words have multiple meanings? I personally feel the idea of engineering, rather than letting be, has been the single most harmful thing extinguishing our evolution since our being here. plants and animals do not need us at all, just remember that.

          • and in that same vein, we don’t need these machines either, with what we know now, the roads lead to ultimately to us being responsible to one another, but these are just words on a screen, to do them is a whole other matter.

          • hmmm, did some digging, the only conclusion I can say as someone who breeds, is that all these are hybridization, taking from the available gene pool, whether recreated or not, to achieve the desired result, even the flu which everyone touts is a recombination from the available pool of influenza genes, even managed to catch a few scientists admitting they didn’t know what mutation allowed its inter-species communicability, I have yet to see a mutation that allowed a species to evolve into a whole new one…

          • oh yeah and the gene pool also include recessive genes that can remain dormant until the needs arises, adapting a lifeform to new situations.

    • Anarchy Pony | Nov 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm |

      Yeah, that would be a negative mutation. There are positive mutations as well.

    • Then the mutation is called an “Adaptation” when it becomes beneficial.

  7. My name is LUCA. I live on the second floor.

  8. My name is LUCA. I live on the second floor.

  9. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm |

    Unless those who are doing such rearing happen to be microbiologists or geneticists, then you might find a decidedly different viewpoint.

  10. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm |

    Luca in the sea with diatoms?

  11. Anarchy Pony | Nov 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm |

    Yeah, that would be a negative mutation. There are positive mutations as well.

  12. DeepCough | Nov 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm |

    I’m surprised no one has made a Cthulhu reference yet.

  13. DeepCough | Nov 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm |

    I’m surprised no one has made a Cthulhu reference yet.

  14. yeah, I know, its just that none of these has led, as of yet, to a whole new species, in the little time we have had in this study anyways….

  15. Mother Luca we miss you.

  16. Mother Luca we miss you.

  17. Mother Luca we miss you.

  18. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 9:16 pm |

    oh, i’d say Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 is pretty damn close –   the first synthetic genome.   Human intervention must be considered an element in genetic evolution – if polydnavirus’s are allowed to mutate species to their own ends so can we. 
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026460/

  19. interesting, this seems more like forcing the issue however, rather than allowing a natural progression in a natural setting, considering we are living in the Holocene, seems as though none can escape our grasp enough to mutate into a species that can survive us.

  20. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm |

    So, we are basically “goo”. But, what galactic butt hole was said goo spewed from….and what did it have for dinner? 

    ….and what did its dinner have for dinner? 
    oh shit, I’m losing it…..

  21. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm |

    So, we are basically “goo”. But, what galactic butt hole was said goo spewed from….and what did it have for dinner? 

    ….and what did its dinner have for dinner? 
    oh shit, I’m losing it…..

  22. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm |

    So, we are basically “goo”. But, what galactic butt hole was said goo spewed from….and what did it have for dinner? 

    ….and what did its dinner have for dinner? 
    oh shit, I’m losing it…..

  23. GoodDoktorBad | Nov 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm |

    So, we are basically “goo”. But, what galactic butt hole was said goo spewed from….and what did it have for dinner? 

    ….and what did its dinner have for dinner? 
    oh shit, I’m losing it…..

  24. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 9:46 pm |

    your dinner?….perhaps it’s more of galactic emesis cycle.   Self-regurgitation for procreation. 

  25. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm |

    Yuuuummy…

  26. Yeah it did… it’s called Earth.

  27. Yeah it did… it’s called Earth.

  28. Which one came first; the creation or the myth?

  29. Anonymous | Nov 30, 2011 at 11:50 pm |

    Shades of The Iluminatus Trilogy…

  30. Anarchaeologist | Nov 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm |

    Shades of The Iluminatus Trilogy…

  31. Then the mutation is called an “Adaptation” when it becomes beneficial.

  32. Anonymous | Dec 1, 2011 at 5:37 am |

    ಠ_ಠ

    imadbrah

  33. microviolence | Dec 1, 2011 at 8:16 am |

    evolution is evolution, forced or not

  34. Roscoe The Wonder Pony | Dec 1, 2011 at 11:39 am |

    Um… ever hear of the flu? Around the world, influenza viruses are constantly mutating, becoming resistant to each vaccine we humans come up with. Swine Flu, Avian Flu etc are just a few examples of new species and new organisms. Evolution is a continuous process and quite observable, if you choose to look honestly at nature to see it.
    If you don’t accept this basic scientific truth, then don’t get a flu shot.

  35. Anonymous | Dec 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm |

         The confines of the ‘petri dish’ are no more an unnatural environment than then cell.  Any aspect of nature, be it a microclimate/ecosystem or biological/chemical boundary, creates a separation in the environment where differentiation of processes can be maintained. A chemical reaction, formally randomized, becomes concentrated and eventually catalyzed.  Containment brings thermodynamic equilibrium thus ordered states.  Coherence propagates and superposition emerges in peptides and eventually enzymes –  The quantum domain extends into the chemical becoming biological through ordered self-reference, thus quantum measurement and self-replication through information exchange.  Life is inherent in the physical nature of the universe –   Consciousness emerging from macrocosmic quantum condensations. 
         Many species alter the environment to enhance their well-being.  Nesting, predatory  traps, cultivation of food species, all of these have led to incredible forms of symbiosis. 
    Homo sapiens, utilizing his natural emergent consciousness, now adapt the environment, not only as an ecosystem, but at the core of its building blocks.  What emerged from the foundations now peers back into itself….and there is nothing unnatural or artificial about this.  Can it be unbalanced? – Without a doubt, and from here stems the fears of the ‘unnatural’. We can, however choose to engage in this process in a way that is not pathological but in greater harmony with the greater world.  It’s our choice of destiny as a species – do we want to be a cancer or the mind of Gaia.

  36. Don’t get a flu shot anyways! Do you know whats actually in those shots? 

  37. Willieloman | Dec 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm |

    How dare you call Jesus a single ocean sized mega creature! Blasphemy!!!

  38. Willieloman | Dec 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |

    How dare you call Jesus a single ocean sized mega creature! Blasphemy!!!

  39. all good points, Im just stubborn mainly because  I personally like to leave things open ended. humans have studied many things since their birth, and have recorded everything, sometimes the obvious intelligence behind the words leads me to think things over. From experience and observation, things have proven to be dynamic, even our own history, our philosophies. personally I ascribe to the belief of intent, in my own point of view, the evolution you all speak of. do not words have multiple meanings? I personally feel the idea of engineering, rather than letting be, has been the single most harmful thing extinguishing our evolution since our being here. plants and animals do not need us at all, just remember that.

  40. and in that same vein, we don’t need these machines either, with what we know now, the roads lead to ultimately to us being responsible to one another, but these are just words on a screen, to do them is a whole other matter.

  41. you might not want to know this, but I havent had a flu shot in 15 years, since high school. but my resting heart rate is the same, in the 40s

  42. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

  43. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

  44. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

  45. The information make me understand. You helped me so much. Thanks for sharing this. 

  46. The information make me understand. You helped me so much. Thanks for sharing this. 

  47. hmmm, did some digging, the only conclusion I can say as someone who breeds, is that all these are hybridization, taking from the available gene pool, whether recreated or not, to achieve the desired result, even the flu which everyone touts is a recombination from the available pool of influenza genes, even managed to catch a few scientists admitting they didn’t know what mutation allowed its inter-species communicability, I have yet to see a mutation that allowed a species to evolve into a whole new one…

  48. oh yeah and the gene pool also include recessive genes that can remain dormant until the needs arises, adapting a lifeform to new situations.

  49. Garmonbozia_13 | Dec 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm |

    The F.S.M. immediately came to mind.

  50. Garmonbozia_13 | Dec 3, 2011 at 8:24 am |

    The F.S.M. immediately came to mind.

  51. New Scientist? Say no more – the National Enquirer of the science world. Next!!!

  52. New Scientist? Say no more – the National Enquirer of the science world. Next!!!

  53. I’m surprised no one made a SOLARIS reference … at all …

Comments are closed.