Remarkably Well-Preserved Fossils Helping to Solve Baffling Puzzle That Vexed Darwin

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Namibia Fieldwork

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Researchers performing fieldwork in Namibia. Credit: Rachel Wood

Remarkably unspoiled fossils are assisting researchers unwind a secret about the origins of early animals that puzzled Charles Darwin.

Analysis of the 547 million-year-old remains has actually allowed scientists to trace the origins of a few of the world’s earliest animals even more back than ever in the past.

Their research study has actually discovered the very first recognized link in between animals that developed throughout the so-called Cambrian Explosion some 540 million-years-ago and among their early forefathers.

Until just recently, little was understood about the origins of animals that developed throughout the Cambrian occasion since of an absence of unspoiled fossil proof.

The strange origins of animals that developed at this time — when the variety of life on Earth increased quickly, generating practically all modern-day animal groups — baffled 19th century biologist Charles Darwin. It is typically described as Darwin’s problem.

Prior to the brand-new research study, it had actually shown challenging to trace relate to earlier animals since their soft tissues — which offer important hints about the animals’ origins — often break down in time.

During fieldwork in Namibia, researchers from the University of Edinburgh discovered the fossil remains of small animals — called Namacalathus — that look like a pin cushion connected to a brief stalk.

Using an x-ray imaging method, the group discovered a few of the animals’ soft tissues immaculately protected inside the fossils by a metal mineral called pyrite. Until now, researchers had actually just ever recognized skeletal remains of Namacalathus.

Studying the soft tissues — and comparing them with those in animals that developed later on — exposed that Namacalathus was an early forefather of types that appeared throughout the Cambrian Explosion. Among them are kinds of ancient worms and mollusks.

The research study, released in the journal Science Advances, was moneyed by the Natural Environment Research Council. The work likewise included a scientist from Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia.

Professor Rachel Wood, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, stated: “These are remarkable fossils, which provide us a glance into the biological affinity of a few of the earliest animals.

“They help us trace the roots of the Cambrian Explosion and the origin of modern animal groups. Such preservation opens up many new avenues of research into the history of life which was previously not possible.”

Reference: “Ediacaran metazoan reveals lophotrochozoan affinity and deepens root of Cambrian Explosion” by A. J. Shore, R. A. Wood, I. B. Butler, A. Yu. Zhuravlev, S. McMahon, A. Curtis and F. T. Bowyer, 1 January 2021, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf2933



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