Nav: Home

Research sheds new light on 'world's oldest animal fossils'

May 03, 2017

A team of researchers, led by the University of Bristol, has uncovered that ancient fossils, thought to be some of the world's earliest examples of animal remains, could in fact belong to other groups such as algae.

The Weng'an Biota is a fossil Konservat-Lagerstätte in South China that is around 600 million-years-old and provides an unparalleled snapshot of marine life during the interval in which molecular clocks estimate that animal groups had evolved.

However, all fossil evidence from this time has met with controversy.

Dr John Cunningham from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, said: "Dated at around 600 million years old, these rocks preserve an assemblage of microscopic fossils, perfectly-aged to be candidates for the oldest evidence of animal life.

"These fossils aren't recognisable as remains of fully grown animals, but some resemble embryos, ranging from single cells to clusters of thousands.

"The preservation is so exquisite, that even sub-cellular structures can be identified, including possible nuclei.

Dr Kelly Vargas, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Bristol and one of the paper's co-authors, said: "But with the lack of adult forms that could indicate their identity, paleontologists have to rely on information from cellular anatomy to determine whether these tiny fossils belong to animals or to a different group."

Now scientists have reviewed all the evidence pointing towards an animal identity of the Weng'an fossils.

Their findings have revealed that none of the characteristics previously used to define the fossils as animals are actually unique to animals alone, opening up the possibility for alternative identifications.

Professor Philip Donoghue, another Bristol co-author, added: "Many proponents of animal affinity have argued that the Y-shaped junctions between the cells in the fossils are an important animal character, but this a feature common to many multicellular groups, including algae, that are very distant relatives of animals."

Dr Cunningham added: "It could be that the fossils belong to other groups, such as algae, and these possibilities need to be investigated carefully."

Despite these results, paleontologists are continuing to make new discoveries from the Weng'an Biota, and these are helping to refine our knowledge of evolution during the Ediacaran.

Dr Cunningham concluded: "It might be possible that we'll find definite animals in the Doushantuo Formation, but it'll be like finding a needle in a haystack, or should we say an embryo in a really, really big quarry."
-end-


University of Bristol

Related Evolution Articles:

A timeline on the evolution of reptiles
A statistical analysis of that vast database is helping scientists better understand the evolution of these cold-blooded vertebrates by contradicting a widely held theory that major transitions in evolution always happened in big, quick (geologically speaking) bursts, triggered by major environmental shifts.
Looking at evolution's genealogy from home
Evolution leaves its traces in particular in genomes. A team headed by Dr.
How boundaries become bridges in evolution
The mechanisms that make organisms locally fit and those responsible for change are distinct and occur sequentially in evolution.
Genome evolution goes digital
Dr. Alan Herbert from InsideOutBio describes ground-breaking research in a paper published online by Royal Society Open Science.
Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.
A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.
Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.