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Fossils from 1.6 billion years ago may be oldest-known plants

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Fossils unearthed in India that are 1.6 billion years old and look like red algae may represent the earliest-known plants, a discovery that could force scientists to reassess the timing of when major lineages in the tree of life first appeared on Earth.

Researchers on Tuesday described the tiny, multicellular fossils as two types of red algae, one thread-like and the other bulbous, that lived in a shallow marine environment alongside mats of bacteria. Until now, the oldest-known plants were 1.2-billion-year-old red algae fossils from the Canadian Arctic.

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The researchers said cellular structures preserved in the fossils and their overall shape match red algae, a primitive kind of plant that today thrives in marine settings such as coral reefs but also can be found in freshwater environments. A type of red algae known as nori is a common sushi ingredient.

“We almost could have had sushi 1.6 billion years ago,” joked Swedish Museum of Natural History geobiologist Therese Sallstedt, who helped lead the study published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago. There is evidence indicating life first appeared in the form of marine bacteria roughly 3.7 to 4.2 billion years ago. Only much later did plants and subsequently animals appear in the primordial seas.

“Plants have a key role for life on Earth, and we show here that they were considerably older than what we knew, which has a ripple effect on our appreciation of when advanced life forms appeared on the evolutionary scene,” Sallstedt said.

The fossils were found in phosphate-rich sedimentary rocks from Chitrakoot in central India. The thread-like fossils contained internal cellular features including structures that appear to be part of the machinery of photosynthesis, the process used by plants to convert sunlight into chemical energy.

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Oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis and the advent of plants helped build the atmosphere’s oxygen content.

The fossils also contained structures at the center of each cell wall typical of red algae.

At the time, Earth’s land surfaces were largely barren, life was mainly microbial and atmospheric oxygen was at 1 to 10 percent of current levels, said study co-leader Stefan Bengtson, a Swedish Museum of Natural History paleobiologist.

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The fossils also represent the oldest-known advanced multicellular organisms in the broad category called eukaryotes that includes plants, fungi and animals, indicating complex life flourished much earlier than previously assumed, the researchers said.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Wells Fargo to pay $3 billion to settle fake accounts scandal

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Wells Fargo has agreed to pay US regulators $3 billion to settle three investigations into the bank's damaging fake accounts scandal, the Department of Justice said on Friday.

The fine settles criminal and civil liability in the case in which the nation's fourth largest bank between 2002 and 2016 pressured employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led to creating millions of accounts or credit cards without consent.

Wells Fargo admitted it collected millions of dollars in fees and interest, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers, and misused personal information, the Justice Department said in a statement.

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Donald Trump Jr. one of only 3 people who wants to legally kill an Alaskan grizzly bear this year

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According to a report from Reuters, Donald Trump Jr. has been awarded an out-of-state permit from Alaska to hunt and kill a grizzly bear this year making him one of only three who applied for one of the 27 permits available.

The report states the son of President Donald Trump has "been granted the right to hunt a grizzly bear in northwestern Alaska near the Bering Sea town of Nome, a state official said on Friday."

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Ryanair CEO branded a racist after controversial statement about Muslims

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Muslim men should be profiled at airports as terrorists will "generally be of a Muslim persuasion", Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said in an interview published Saturday, sparking accusations of racism.

"Who are the bombers?" the budget airline's controversial chief executive said while discussing airport security in the interview with the Times newspaper.

"They are going to be single males travelling on their own... If you are travelling with a family of kids, on you go; the chances you are going to blow them all up is zero."

"You can't say stuff, because it's racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish."

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