A question that has long dogged scientists is when did life first emerge on Earth? The answer to this question will provide context and insight to our understanding of how life developed and evolved over time on this planet. This conjures up the iconic scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the Q entity transports Captain Picard to prehistoric Earth, riddled with intense volcanic activity. He points to a slimy, green puddle and says “this is you…right here, life is about to form on this planet for the very first time…the building blocks of what you call life…everything you know, your entire civilization, it all begins right here in this little pond of goo.”

Moreover, it will aid in our ongoing search for life beyond Earth.

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The former band White Zombie is famous for its song “More Human Than Human,” but it appears that when it comes to how many cells in your body are actually human, "Less Human Than Human" might be more accurate.

Indeed, in both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, one of the hot topics of research is the human “microbiome” or the communities of microbes that make up a significant portion of the human body. Although the microbiome is currently a popular area of scientific research, the notion that a major portion of our cellular composition is not human is not a recent idea.

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As bad as this year’s flu epidemic has been, at least in the United States, most of us rest easy knowing that deadlier and nastier mass-murdering pathogens such as bubonic plague and smallpox live mostly in our collective memory. Or do they? As climate change melts longstanding permafrost, some scientists fear that “zombie pathogens,” which have been slumbering for centuries, might be waking up, threatening to overtake humanity again.

Permafrost refers to a layer of permanently frozen earth—it has to be frozen for a minimum of two years to qualify—found primarily in most continually frosty parts of the world such as the Arctic Circle, Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. According to National Geographic, there are some 22.8 million square miles of permafrost in the world. Research has shown that Earth's permafrost heated up by 6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century and scientists predict even more dramatic melting by 2100. Not only will this raise ocean levels and exacerbate erosion, it may also mean a release of pathogens better left frozen.

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Genetics, Dna, Double Helix Strand With Its Sub-Units, The Nucleobases, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, And Guanine, Yellow, Pink, Orange And Purple Respectively. (BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

An Australian study recently plunged into the world of dark matter, using new technology to identify a multitude of microbial species. As a result, scientists have now added new 20 phyla to the tree of life.

Expanding the tree of life

Researchers at the University of Queensland used advances in gene sequencing technology and mathematics to study microbial genomes obtained straight from environmental samples, without the necessity of cultivation in the lab. The new technology is called metagenomics, whereby researchers gather specimens of all the genetic material—for instance, in a sample of soil, ocean water or baboon feces—and then piece them together using computational models to identify the microorganisms they represent.

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[DIGEST: GMA Network, BBC, National Geographic]

The Cave of the Crystals is only beginning to reveal its secrets. The spectacular cave, discovered in 2000, is connected to the Naica Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico. It quickly became famous for its gigantic crystals — the largest is 39 feet long. Now NASA scientists have discovered something else inside the cave: some of those crystals contain dormant life forms that are over 50,000 years old.

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