Swedish researchers say they’ve discovered traces of ancient red algae preserved in sedimentary rock dating back 1.6 billion years, making them the oldest plant-like fossils ever found. The discovery shows that complex multicellular life appeared in Earth’s history much earlier than previously thought.
Two kinds of fossils, both found in the Chitrakoot region of central India, were analyzed by Stefan Bengtson and his team from the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Using an impressive array of imaging techniques, the researchers identified physical characteristics consistent with red algae, a primitive form of plant-like life capable of photosynthesis, and one of the first forms of complex life to emerge on Earth. The fossils are an astounding 400 million years older than the previous record holder for a plant-like fossil, indicating an earlier origin for advanced multicellular life. This research now appears in PLOS Biology.