Nav: Home

Ancient fossilized tracks suggest multicellular life far older than previously thought

February 13, 2019

Newly discovered fossilized tracks suggest multicellular life could be 1.5 billion years older than previously thought, according to a new study by an international team of researchers including scientists at the University of Alberta.

"The preservation of fossilized tracks, or trace fossils, suggests that multicellular organisms that could move around to reach food resources may already have existed 2.1 billion years ago, more than 1.5 billion years older than previously thought," explained Kurt Konhauser, professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

Ancient fossilized tracks suggest multicellular organisms originated 2.1 billion years ago.

The sample that contains the fossilized tracks of early multicellular life. Image courtesy of Abder El Albani.

The fossils, found in the Francevillian Series Formation, located in Gabon, Africa, are likely the result of ancient mucus trails, left by multicellular life such as modern amoeboid cells in the search for food. The samples range from 6 millimeters across and 170 millimeters in length through the sediment layers. But despite their small size, the paper on this discovery has sparked international controversy.

"The question arising from this research then is why do we go 1.5 billion years before we see similar features in the rock record?" asked Konhauser. "We don't see anything like this again until 585 million years ago."

Some speculate that this early emergence of complex life went extinct due to some environmental factor. Others suggest that similar fossilized traces may have existed but were not preserved, or simply gone unnoticed elsewhere.

"The broader community is right to be skeptical about the interpretation," said Konhauser. "However, one of the current paradigms relating to the evolution of multicellular organisms is oxygen availability, and 2.1 billion years ago there was no shortage of oxygen in shallow marine waters."

Future research will examine similar well-oxygenated, shallow-marine environments that are between 2.1 billion and 500 million years old.
-end-
This research was conducted in collaboration with Abder El Albani of the University of Poitiers in Poitiers, France. The paper, "Organism motility in an oxygenated shallow-marine environment 2.1 billion years ago," was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1815721116).

University of Alberta

Related Evolution Articles:

Prebiotic evolution: Hairpins help each other out
The evolution of cells and organisms is thought to have been preceded by a phase in which informational molecules like DNA could be replicated selectively.
How to be a winner in the game of evolution
A new study by University of Arizona biologists helps explain why different groups of animals differ dramatically in their number of species, and how this is related to differences in their body forms and ways of life.
The galloping evolution in seahorses
A genome project, comprising six evolutionary biologists from Professor Axel Meyer's research team from Konstanz and researchers from China and Singapore, sequenced and analyzed the genome of the tiger tail seahorse.
Fast evolution affects everyone, everywhere
Rapid evolution of other species happens all around us all the time -- and many of the most extreme examples are associated with human influences.
Landscape evolution and hazards
Landscapes are formed by a combination of uplift and erosion.
New insight into enzyme evolution
How enzymes -- the biological proteins that act as catalysts and help complex reactions occur -- are 'tuned' to work at a particular temperature is described in new research from groups in New Zealand and the UK, including the University of Bristol.
The evolution of Dark-fly
On Nov. 11, 1954, Syuiti Mori turned out the lights on a small group of fruit flies.
A look into the evolution of the eye
A team of researchers, among them a zoologist from the University of Cologne, has succeeded in reconstructing a 160 million year old compound eye of a fossil crustacean found in southeastern France visible.
Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?
Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to a University of Southampton professor.
The evolution of antievolution policies
Organized opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schoolsin the United States began in the 1920s, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey trial.

Related Evolution Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...