This Strange Organism Hasn't Evolved in More Than 2 Billion Years

First Posted: Feb 03, 2015 11:51 AM EST

Scientists may have discovered an organism that has simply stalled in evolutionary terms. They've found a type of deep-sea microorganisms that appears to not have evolved for over two billion years.

In this case, the researchers examined sulfur bacteria, which are microorganisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These microorganisms were preserved in rocks from Western Australia's coastal waters, and are about 1.8 billion years old. The scientists examined the bacteria and found that, surprisingly, they look the same as bacteria of the same region from 2.3 billion years ago. Not only that, but the bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found in mud off of the coast of Chile.

"It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years-nearly half the history of Earth," said J. William Schopf, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained."

So why did this bacteria stay the same for billions of years? The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes. In this case, the environment in which these microorganisms live has essentially remained the same for three billion years.

"These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment," said Schopf. "If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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