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.

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  • Anonymous

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

  • MoralDrift

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

    • patrick

      Which one came first; the creation or the myth?

  • Anonymous

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

  • Redacted

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

    • Calypso_1

      Luca in the sea with diatoms?

      • Redacted

        ಠ_ಠ

        imadbrah

  • chubby

    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.

  • chubby

    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

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

      • chubby

        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

          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/

          • chubby

            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

            evolution is evolution, forced or not

          • Roscoe The Wonder Pony

            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.

          • Area 65

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

          • chubby

            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

            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.

          • chubby

            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.

          • chubby

            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.

          • chubby

            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…

          • chubby

            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

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

    • Stumage

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

  • shae

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

  • shae

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

  • Anonymous

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

  • Anonymous

    Luca in the sea with diatoms?

  • Anarchy Pony

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

  • DeepCough

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

  • DeepCough

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

  • chubby

    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….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=773433966 Rus Archer
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=773433966 Rus Archer
  • Rus Archer
  • Grandson

    Mother Luca we miss you.

  • Grandson

    Mother Luca we miss you.

  • Grandson

    Mother Luca we miss you.

  • Anonymous

    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/

  • chubby

    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.

  • Anonymous

    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…..

  • Anonymous

    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…..

  • Anonymous

    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…..

  • GoodDoktorBad

    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…..

    • Calypso_1

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

      • GoodDoktorBad

        Yuuuummy…

  • Anonymous

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

  • Anonymous

    Yuuuummy…

  • http://twitter.com/Dissentologist One of Many

    Yeah it did… it’s called Earth.

  • http://twitter.com/Dissentologist Against the grain

    Yeah it did… it’s called Earth.

  • patrick

    Which one came first; the creation or the myth?

  • Anarchaeologist

    Shades of The Iluminatus Trilogy…

  • Anonymous

    Shades of The Iluminatus Trilogy…

  • Stumage

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

  • Anonymous

    ಠ_ಠ

    imadbrah

  • microviolence

    evolution is evolution, forced or not

  • Roscoe The Wonder Pony

    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.

  • Anonymous

         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.

  • Area 65

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

  • Willieloman

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

  • Willieloman

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

  • chubby

    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.

  • chubby

    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.

  • chubby

    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

  • http://worldwithinsight.com/ Kyle Greggory

    Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

  • http://worldwithinsight.com/ Kyle Greggory

    Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

  • KG

    Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within???????

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  • http://good-protein-shakes.blogspot.com Protein shakes

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  • chubby

    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…

  • chubby

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

  • Garmonbozia_13

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

  • Garmonbozia_13

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

  • avs002

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

  • avs002

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

  • Nauru

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

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