Researchers use Moore's Law to calculate that life began before Earth existed

On this semilog plot, the complexity of organisms, as measured by the length of functional non-redundant DNA per genome counted by nucleotide base pairs (bp), increases linearly with time (Sharov, 2012). Time is counted backwards in billions of years before the present (time 0).

Abstract: An extrapolation of the genetic complexity of organisms to earlier times suggests that life began before the Earth was formed. Life may have started from systems with single heritable elements that are functionally equivalent to a nucleotide. The genetic complexity, roughly measured by the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides, is expected to have grown exponentially due to several positive feedback factors: gene cooperation, duplication of genes with their subsequent specialization, and emergence of novel functional niches associated with existing genes. Linear regression of genetic complexity on a log scale extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life 9.7 billion years ago.

This cosmic time scale for the evolution of life has important consequences: life took ca. 5 billion years to reach the complexity of bacteria; the environments in which life originated and evolved to the prokaryote stage may have been quite different from those envisaged on Earth; there was no intelligent life in our universe prior to the origin of Earth, thus Earth could not have been deliberately seeded with life by intelligent aliens; Earth was seeded by panspermia; experimental replication of the origin of life from scratch may have to emulate many cumulative rare events; and the Drake equation for guesstimating the number of civilizations in the universe is likely wrong, as intelligent life has just begun appearing in our universe.

Evolution of advanced organisms has accelerated via development of additional information-processing systems: epigenetic memory, primitive mind, multicellular brain, language, books, computers, and Internet. As a result the doubling time of complexity has reached ca. 20 years. Finally, we discuss the issue of the predicted technological singularity and give a biosemiotics perspective on the increase of complexity.

Obviously it's as lot of guesswork, but the interesting thing here is that if they're right and we could only have gotten to our current level of complexity via a 6 billion year panspermatic headstart, there hasn't actually yet been time for us to be the second generation of complex life, since the Universe is only 13.7 billion years old. It makes this one of the many obvious solutions to the Fermi Paradox seem a little more plausible.

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9 Responses:

  1. 35462354 says:

    Somehow it pops in my head someone bragging about doubling his customer's base after a seconds sign-up. What if it were the opposite? What if the relatively high complexity of the prokaryotes could be achieved fairly quickly but by diminishing returns it would become harder and harder to go further (hence looking linear in a log space)?

  2. Tim says:

    PZ Myers (a biologist, if you're not familiar with his blog) found the paper slightly before you did, and trashed it:

    It doesn't sound like it's a good explanation for much of anything.

  3. Pavel Lishin says:

    Ugh, great. We just got volunteered to be the Cosmic Elder Race.

  4. C. says:

    Indeed, see PZ Meyer's blog post. He points out that it's not a study but an exercise in selectively picking datapoints to fit the desired curve.