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Worldwide Mega-Organism Spawned All Life

Ocean-wide network of cells survived by sharing proteins
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 26, 2011 1:18 PM CST

(Newser) – Here's a subject for a monster movie—only there would be no victims, because it happened about 3 billion years ago. According to a new theory, the first life form on Earth was a mega-organism that once filled the world's oceans, then split up into parts that later spawned the ancestors of all living things. Dubbed LUCA, the massive organism was actually a network of cells. But they worked as one to survive on this turbulent planet, the New Scientist reports.

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Unable to make the exact proteins they needed, these cells swapped them instead—effectively creating a massive gene pool that survived together. Around the time oxygen appeared in the atmosphere—2.9 billion years ago, if you're counting—they split into single-celled bacteria, archaea, and complex cells called eukaryotes that eventually led to plants and animals. Not all scientists are buying the notion, however: "It's a plausible idea," says an MIT scientist. But he "honestly can't tell" if it's true. (Read about ancient gas clouds that scientists say seeded the entire universe.)

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