Meet Our Oldest Common Ancestor: A 555 Million-Year-Old Worm-Like Creature
Scientists have discovered our earliest common ancestor — and the earliest ancestor of all animal life.
The honor goes to a minuscule worm-like creature that lived on the seafloor 555 million years ago. Researchers led by geologists at the University of California (UC) Riverside have identified it as the first known bilaterian, an organism with a front and back, symmetrical sides and front and back openings with a gut in between.
"It's the oldest fossil we get with this type of complexity," UC Riverside geology professor Mary Droser said in a press release.
Bilaterians are an important piece of the evolutionary tree that branches out to include the full diversity of animal life. The new body structure allowed creatures to move forward purposefully.
The fossil was dated to the Ediacaran Period 555 million years ago, when multi-celled, complex lifeforms began to emerge, BBC News explained. But other fossils found in the "Ediacaran Biota" are not directly related to today's animals. These include Dickinsonia, organisms shaped like lily pads that have no mouth or gut, according to UC Riverside.
Geologists thought that bilaterians must have been alive during this period, but direct fossil evidence was hard to find. Researchers had thought for 15 years that these creatures were the explanation for fossilized burrows found in Ediacaran deposits in Nilpena, South Australia, but there was no definitive proof.
Then, Droser and UC Riverside doctoral graduate Scott Evans honed in on barely discernible oval impressions near the ends of the burrows. They used a three-dimensional scanner to fill in the impression and a body emerged — a grain-of-rice sized cylindrical creature about 2-7 millimeters long and about 1-2.5 millimeters wide.
"Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery," Evans said in the press release.
Scientists called the creature Ikaria wariootia and introduced it to the world in an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday. The name comes from the language of the Adnyamathanha people, an aboriginal group who live in the part of Australia where the fossil was found, CNN reported. Ikaria means "meeting place" and Warioota is the name of a local creek.
But the creature didn't live by the riverside. Instead, it spent its life burrowing in sand on the ocean floor in search of food, BBC News described.
The creature is also important for another reason. Evolutionary biologists had long predicted early bilaterians would be small and simple like Ikaria wariootia, according to the press release.
"This is what evolutionary biologists predicted," Droser said. "It's really exciting that what we have found lines up so neatly with their prediction."
- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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