An international team of researchers has discovered the ancient food habits of Earth’s oldest animals, which lived more than 550 million years ago.
Scientists who analyzed fossils of the Ediacaran biota — life forms that existed between 538.8 million and 635 million years ago — say they represent the first evidence of food the animals consumed.
The fossils of a slug-like creature known as Kimberella contained compounds indicating that it ate algae and bacteria from the ocean floor—not exactly a hearty meal, but a sign that the animal had a mouth and gut, digesting food the same way some modern invertebrates do.
Study co-author Professor Jochen Brooks, from the Australian National University, said the fossils from the Ediacaran period were “some of the most important fossils in evolution because they are the first time life became large. They are the oldest large fossils you can see with your own eyes.”
The researchers suggest that Kimberella, a symmetrical creature that could also move, was an advanced animal for its time.
“The existence of the alimentary canal is very recent,” Brooks said, comparing it to more primitive animals. “Sponges, coral and jellyfish.” [for example]They don’t have a normal gut that runs through their entire body.”
“We can see that [Kimberella] The gut was able to actively absorb the lipoprotein molecule, rejecting other molecules it didn’t want.”
When analyzing fossils of another animal species, Dickinsonia, the team found that this second creature was less advanced, with no mouth or gut.
Brooks, who described Dickinsonia as looking like “a ribbed bathrobe lying on the seabed”, said it had grown to 1.4 meters in length and instead sucked food through its skin.
The fossils were collected in 2018 by the study’s lead author, Dr. Ilya Bobrovsky of GFZ-Potsdam, from cliffs near the White Sea, in northwestern Russia.
The same researchers had previously established that Dickinsonia is the indisputably oldest animal fossil, dating back about 550 million years.
Last year, a study published in the journal Nature suggested that the web-like patterns in rock samples dating back 890 million years ago resembled the webs of modern sponges, which would date the earliest forms of animal life to about 300 million years ago — but that evidence has been debated among The experts.
The new study suggested that the Ediacaran biota “really contains some of the organisms that gave rise to the disease,” Brooks said. [Cambrian] explosion, to the emergence of modern animals.” The Cambrian Explosion, also called the Big Biological Explosion, was around 538.8 million years ago when nearly all of the major animal groups began to appear in the fossil record.
The research has been published in the journal Current Biology.
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