Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shedding light on Earth's first animals




Complex and highly regulated development of Dickinsonia, one of the oldest fossil animals, broadens our understanding of early evolution

Date: May 17, 2017
Source: University of California - Riverside

More than 550 million years ago, the oceans were teeming with flat, soft-bodied creatures that fed on microbes and algae and could grow as big as bathmats. Today, researchers at the University of California, Riverside are studying their fossils to unlock the secrets of early life.
In their latest study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, Scott Evans, a graduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences, and Mary Droser, a professor of paleontology, both in UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, show that the Ediacaran-era fossil animal Dickinsonia developed in a complex, highly regulated way using a similar genetic toolkit to today's animals. The study helps place Dickinsonia in the early evolution of animal life, and showcases how the large, mobile sea creature grew and developed.

Dickinsonia was a flat, oval-shaped creature that ranged in size from less than an inch to several feet, and is characterized by a series of raised bands -- known as modules -- on its surface. These animals are of interest to paleontologists because they are the first to become large and complex, to move around, and form communities, yet little is known about them. For years, scientists have been debating the taxonomic status of Dickinsonia -- placing it with fungi, marine worms and jellyfish, to name a few. It is now generally accepted that Dickinsonia was an animal, now extinct.

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