Play whatever scene you have in your head of the first creature to emerge from the sea and move onto land. Now hit pause and play it in reverse. A new paper in Nature refutes the long-held theory that life began in the water and evolved onto land, reports NPR. In fact, just the opposite happened, argues Greg Retallack of the University of Oregon. His theory rests on ancient organisms known as Ediacarans thought to predate a huge boom in ocean life about 530 million years ago.
After studying their fossils, Retallack thinks they were akin to fungi or lichen, which is in itself a change from the accepted wisdom that they were animals of some kind (early jellyfish, say). But more startling is his contention that they lived on land, based on his analysis of Australian rock where some fossils were found. A Virginia Tech skeptic says the evidence presented "is not a slam-dunk," and NPR's Richard Harris writes it will take some time before we see "whether the story ends with acceptance of Retallack's provocative proposal." Read it, or listen to it, in full here. (Read more evolution stories.)