An international team of scientists has discovered molecules of fat in an ancient fossil to reveal the earliest confirmed animal in the geological record that lived on Earth 558 million years ago. The team was led by The Australian National University and included scientists from the German Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and University of Bremen as well as the Russian Academy of Science. Their recent results are published in the journal Science.
The strange creature called Dickinsonia, which grew up to 1.4 metres in length and was oval shaped with rib-like segments running along its body, was part of the Ediacara Biota that lived on Earth 20 million years prior to the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of modern animal life. PhD scholar Ilya Bobrovskiy from The Australian National University (ANU) discovered a Dickinsonia fossil so well preserved in a remote area near the White Sea in the northwest of Russia that the tissue still contained fossil remnants of cholesterol, a type of fat that is the hallmark of animal life.
“The fossil fat molecules that we’ve found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought,” said Associate Professor Jochen Brocks, lead senior researcher from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.
“Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth. The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known fossil belonging to the animal kingdom, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of palaeontology.”
By analysing fat molecules the team developed a new approach to study Dickinsonia fossils, which hold the key between the old world dominated by bacteria and the world of large animals that emerged 540 million years ago during the ‘Cambrian explosion’. In that era complex animals and other macroscopic organisms – such as molluscs, worms, arthropods and sponges – began to dominate the fossil record.
This is where Christian Hallmann and his team, experts in studies of fossil steroid molecules from the German Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and the University of Bremen came into play. “We had to exclude that Dickinsonia could be protists, single-celled eukaryotes of the lowest organization level, a theory previously followed by others”, postdoctoral researcher Benjamin Nettersheim says.
To this end they systematically studied the lipid composition of various rhizarian protists and artificially aged the biomass of these organisms to make them comparable to the fossils. “The pattern is completely different” says Hallmann, which clearly excludes this old theory.
“The problem that we had to overcome was finding Dickinsonia fossils that retained some organic matter,” said Mr Bobrovskiy from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences. Most rocks containing these fossils such as those from the Ediacara Hills in Australia have endured a lot of heat, a lot of pressure, and then they were weathered after that.
“Our fossils were located in the middle of cliffs of the White Sea that are 60 to 100 metres high and could only be reached by abseiling”. The unique preservation of Ediacara fossils at this remote locality may hold even far more clues towards the nature of our earliest animal ancestors.
Dr. Christian Hallmann
Max Planck Research Group Leader
Tel: +49 (0)421 218 65 820
Ilya Bobrovskiy, Janet M. Hope, Andrey Ivantsov, Benjamin J. Nettersheim, Christian Hallmann, Jochen J. Brocks (2018)
Ancient steroids establish the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia as one of the earliest animals
Science, Sept 21, published online
https://www.marum.de/wir-ueber-uns/AG-Hallmann.html Website of the Group
Dr. Eberhard Fritz | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Wintertime Arctic sea ice growth slows long-term decline: NASA
07.12.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Why Tehran Is Sinking Dangerously
06.12.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.
Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.
Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine
12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine