UO professor Gregory Retallack controversially questions where life began

Posted by Ian Campbell on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 1:09 pm.

The textbooks have told the same story for years: life began in the ocean then moved onto the sandy shores of land. This secondary school concept becomes the base for all science related classes, but University of Oregon Geological Sciences professor Gregory Retallack has set out to prove the opposite.

Retallack is suggesting that Precambrian fossils, known as Ediacarans, may not have developed from early marine life, but instead from land-dwelling lichens.

Edicaran fossils typically date from 600 million years ago and were usually considered to be fossils of sea pens and jellyfish, but Retallack is making the case that instead of animals the fossils are types of fungi or lichens.

Retallack found that the fossils were formed by ancient soil and not marine mud.

“The key evidence for this new view is that the beds immediately below the cover sandstones in which they are preserved were fossil soils,” Retallack said in a statement for the Science Recorder. “In other words the fossils were covered by sand in life position at the top of the soils in which they grew. In addition, frost features and chemical composition of the fossil soils are evidence that they grew in cold dry soils, like lichens in tundra today, rather than in tropical marine lagoons.”

The new findings have been controversial in the science word — some have been supportive while others have called Retallack’s arguments weak.

Martin Brasier, a Palaeobiology professory at the University of Oxford belittled the findings.

“I find Retallack’s observations dubious, and his arguments poor. That this was published by Nature is beyond my understanding,” Brasier wrote in an email to LiveScience.

Despite the criticism, an editorial piece ran in Nature, an international weekly journal of science, that credited the recent findings to an ever changing fossil record.

“The fossil record has this irritating habit: just when everyone thinks that the narrative has been sorted out, something comes along to force the story in a new, unexpected and breathtaking direction,” the journal read.