Early Life Thrived Despite Earthly Travails

Science  25 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5423, pp. 2111-2113
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2111

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Because fossils from Earth's early years are rare and frustratingly cryptic, many researchers studying the origins of life are turning to geology, hoping to learn the state of the planet's surface and atmosphere when it first hosted living things. This approach joins clever techniques to wrest more direct information about life from long-dead rocks (see sidebar) and laboratory efforts to explore the likely chemistry of early life or infer its genetic nature from the genes of living creatures. The geologic approach is revealing a series of hair-raising escapes, in which living organisms survived rocks raining down from the sky, precarious climate control, and either scarcity or abundance of oxygen.