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A favorite documentary of mine is Encounters at the End of the World, in where, "Film-maker Werner Herzog travels to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, looking to capture the continent's beauty and investigate the characters living there."

During his time there, he films under-ice divers who risk their lives to explore the depths of antartica's ocean waters to study organisms that are believed to have not evolved for millions (if not billions) of years.

I noticed that the divers, in their routine, were not speaking at all. To me, they were like priests preparing for mass. Under the ice, the divers find themselves in a separate reality, where space and time acquire a strange new dimension.

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One of the foremost scholars in the world in his field, Dr. Pawlowski, studies the DNA sequences of foraminifera. What looks esoteric is in fact one of the fundamental questions about life on Earth. In the same way that cosmologists search for the origins of the universe, the scientists here are tracing back the evolution of life to its earliest stages.

antartica underwater life1


While watching this part of the documentary, it always makes me wonder: Which form of live (lineage of organism) has undergone the least evolutionary change? And how exactly is this quantified - just differences in DNA/RNA?

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  • $\begingroup$ Since when? Since LUCA? I doubt we know nearly enough about LUCA (and about the origins of viruses) to be conclusive. I very much doubt that genetic pairwise differences would help as I doubt any extant species would align with LUCA (even if we were to know LUCA's genome). If we use phenotypes, then it is likely going to be quite arbitrary as to what trait we decide to put attention into (and again, we don't know much about LUCA's phenotype). $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Aug 18 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I suppose since LUCA, or some evolutionary period around then. And yeah, I'm sure we don't have nearly as much data as we'd like to have.. however, is there a "front runner" as of now - an organism that currently holds the title? I did come across this, but I'm not sure if there are others. $\endgroup$ – Charles Aug 18 '17 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ No, I don't. But I suspect many users will be able to read this paper and eventually come up with an answer to your question. I might do it later if I find the time. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Aug 18 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. It will still give food for thoughts and may provide interesting insights to your question. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Aug 18 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ You are asking the question, so it's your job to define what you mean, not to ask others "how it is quantitate". And do you really mean "live"? More effort on that and less on eye-candy might have led to a better question. $\endgroup$ – David Aug 18 '17 at 19:58

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