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Paleontologist Speaks On Extra Terrestrial Life


Earth's most ancient fossils are hard to find. Some scientists think a few
of the earliest fossils might still be preserved in Earth rocks blasted to
the moon by an asteroid or meteor. Others believe much of the evidence has
been erased forever by the constant heat and pressure of plate tectonics.

But learning as much as possible about the earliest life on Earth is
probably the best starting point for trying to find life somewhere else,
said Roger Buick, a paleontologist who became the first faculty member
hired specifically for the University of Washington's pioneering graduate
program in astrobiology. He also is an associate professor of earth and
space sciences. 
As a doctoral student nearly two decades ago, Buick discovered
stromatolites, or mounds of sedimentary rock, formed by microbes 3.5
billion years ago in western Australia. Those mounds remain the oldest
visible evidence of life on Earth.

Buick suggested that using basic techniques to search for the simplest
evidence of ancient life on Earth is the best approach to finding evidence
of life elsewhere. That is a message he delivered today at the American
Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Seattle during a session called
"The Biology of Astrobiology for Astronomers." There are a variety of
difficulties associated with searching for early life based on what we
know of biology and geology, he said, yet both disciplines must be
involved if we are to be successful in the search for life elsewhere.