A Break in the Search for the Origin of Complex Life

Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2520 Jan. 18 18.23In Norse mythology, humans and our world were created by a pantheon of gods who lived in the realm of Asgard. As it turns out, these stories have a grain of truth to them.

Thanks to a team of scientists led by Thijs Ettema, Asgard is now also the name of a large clan of microbes. Its members, which are named after Norse gods like Odin, Thor, Loki, and Heimdall, are found all over the world. Many of them are rare and no one has actually seen them under a microscope. But thanks to their DNA, we know they exist. And we know that they are singularly important to us, because they may well be the group from which we evolved.

If Ettema is right, then around two billion years ago, an Asgardian microbe (or an incredibly close relative) took part in a unique event that gave rise to the eukaryotes. That’s the group which includes humans, our fellow animals, plants, fungi, and every living thing made from large, complex cells—all the living things we’re most familiar with, and all the ones we can actually see. Our origins lie either in Asgard, or next door to it.

To understand this story, we have to go back to the very beginning.

More here.