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For use of the term in linguistics and philology, see Comparative method (linguistics), Historical linguistics, Proto-language, and Textual criticism.

Common descent describes how, in evolutionary biology, a group of organisms share a most recent common ancestor. There is evidence of common descent that all life on Earth is descended from the last universal ancestor.

Common ancestry between organisms of different species arises during speciation, in which new species are established from a single ancestral population. Organisms which share a more recent common ancestor are more closely related. The most recent common ancestor of all currently living organisms is the last universal ancestor, which lived about 3.9 billion years ago. The two earliest evidences for life on Earth are graphite found to be biogenic in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland and microbial mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. All currently living organisms on Earth share a common genetic heritage (universal common descent), with each being the descendant from a single original species, though the suggestion of substantial horizontal gene transfer during early evolution has led to questions about monophyly of life.

Universal common descent through an evolutionary process, that there was only one progenitor for all life forms, was first proposed by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, which ended with "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one". The theory has been recently popularized by Richard Dawkins, in The Ancestor's Tale, and others.


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