Groove-like tracks on the ocean floor made by giant deep-sea single-celled organisms could lead to new insights into the evolutionary origin of animals.
Biologist Mikhail “Misha” Matz from The University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues, including Dr. Tamara Frank with the Center for Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University, recently discovered grape-sized protists and their complex tracks on the ocean floor near the Bahamas. This is the first time a single-celled organism has been shown to make such animal-like traces. The team’s discovery was recently published online in Current Biology and will also appear in the journal’s December 9 print issue.
The finding is significant, because similar fossil grooves and furrows found from the Precambrian era, as early as 1.8 billion years ago, have always been attributed to early evolving multi-cellular animals.“If our giant protists were alive 600 million years ago and the track was fossilized, a paleontologist unearthing it today would without a shade of doubt attribute it to a kind of large, multi-cellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal,” said Matz, an assistant professor of integrative biology. “We now have to rethink the fossil record.”
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research provided several years of significant interdisciplinary funding to the research group involved in this discovery (Operation Deep-Scope 2004, 2005, 2007). The NOAA program provided funds for the scientists to explore unknown or little studied regions of the deep-sea floor using HBOI’s Johnson-Sea-Link (JSL) submersible. The JSL provided a nearly 180 degree unimpeded field of view making it possible for the scientists to see the vast field of “grapes” and their tracks during this expedition.
“The unique collecting tools available on the Johnson-Sea-Link allowed us to gather intact specimens from the sea floor at a depth of 750 meters so that Mikhail could analyze them in his laboratory,” said Frank. “It was a ‘eureka’ moment when he realized that these specimens were giant mobile protists and not fecal pellets as we originally suspected.”
Most animals, from humans to insects, are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that they can be roughly divided into halves that are mirror images. The bilateral animals, or “Bilateria,” appeared in the fossil record in the early Cambrian about 542 million years ago, quickly diversifying into all of the major animal groups, or phyla, still alive today. This rapid diversification, known as the Cambrian explosion, puzzled Charles Darwin and remains one of the biggest questions in animal evolution to this day. Very few fossils exist of organisms that could be the Precambrian ancestors of bilateral animals, and even those are highly controversial. Fossil traces are the most accepted evidence of the existence of these proto-animals.
“We used to think that it takes bilateral symmetry to move in one direction across the seafloor and thereby leave a track,” said Matz. “You have to have a belly and a backside and a front and back end. Now, we show that protists can leave traces of comparable complexity and with a very similar profile.”
With their find, Matz, Frank and their colleagues argue that fossil traces cannot be used alone as evidence that multi-cellular animals were evolving during the Precambrian, slowly setting the stage for the Cambrian explosion. “I personally think now that the whole Precambrian may have been exclusively the reign of protists,” said Matz. “Our observations open up this possible way of interpreting the Precambrian fossil record.”
Matz says the appearance of all the animal body plans during the Cambrian explosion might not just be an artifact of the fossil record. There are likely other mechanisms that explain the burst-like origin of diverse multi-cellular life forms. DNA analysis confirmed that the giant protist found by Matz and his colleagues in the Bahamas is Gromia sphaerica, a species previously known only from the Arabian Sea.
They did not observe the giant protists in action, and Matz says they likely move very slowly. The sediments on the ocean floor at their particular location are very stable and there are no current—perfect conditions for the preservation of tracks. Matz says the protists probably move by sending leg-like extensions, called pseudopodia, out of their cells in all directions. The pseudopodia then grab onto mud in one direction and the organism rolls that way, leaving a track. He aims to return to the location in the future to observe their movement and investigate other tracks in the area.
Matz says the giant protists’ bubble-like body design is probably one of the planet’s oldest macroscopic body designs, which may have existed for 1.8 billion years.
“Our guys may be the ultimate living fossils of the macroscopic world,” he said.
Florida Atlantic University opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses strategically located along 150 miles of Florida's southeastern coastline. Building on its rich tradition as a teaching university, with a world-class faculty, FAU hosts ten colleges: College of Architecture, Urban & Public Affairs, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, the Barry Kaye College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Engineering & Computer Science, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Graduate College, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.
Gisele Galoustian | Newswise Science News
Further reports about: > Animal > Bilateral > Cambrian > Cambrian explosion > Groove-like tracks > JSL > Johnson-Sea-Link > Oceanographic > Pacific Ocean > Precambrian > animal evolution > giant deep-sea single-celled > giant protists > multi-cellular > ocean floor > organism > protist > sea floor > traces
Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care
Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses