Pre-Cambrian sponges, world’s oldest animals discovered


This July 2013 video says about itself:

A number of sponge-like fossils occur in the fossil record, many of which were originally described as sponges. A few of these are presented here. Charles D. Walcott was one of the first paleontologists to get involved with many of these, some of which are found in very ancient strata of the Precambrian.

Walcott’s Atikokania was one of these, it’s now considered to be a pseudofossil (false fossil) much like the previously described Eozoon canadense (the so called “Dawn Animal of Canada”).

Sponges are an ancient group of animals; however, their presence before the Cambrian Period is questionable.

That was then. However, now …

From the University of California – Riverside in the USA:

Sponges on ancient ocean floors 100 million years before Cambrian period

Molecular fossil evidence

October 15, 2018

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have found the oldest clue yet of animal life, dating back at least 100 million years before the famous Cambrian explosion of animal fossils.

The study, led by Gordon Love, a professor in UCR’s Department of Earth Sciences, was published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The first author is Alex Zumberge, a doctoral student working in Love’s research group.

Rather than searching for conventional body fossils, the researchers have been tracking molecular signs of animal life, called biomarkers, as far back as 660-635 million years ago during the Neoproterozoic Era. In ancient rocks and oils from Oman, Siberia, and India, they found a steroid compound produced only by sponges, which are among the earliest forms of animal life.

“Molecular fossils are important for tracking early animals since the first sponges were probably very small, did not contain a skeleton, and did not leave a well-preserved or easily recognizable body fossil record”, Zumberge said. “We have been looking for distinctive and stable biomarkers that indicate the existence of sponges and other early animals, rather than single-celled organisms that dominated the earth for billions of years before the dawn of complex, multicellular life.”

The biomarker they identified, a steroid compound named 26-methylstigmastane (26-mes), has a unique structure that is currently only known to be synthesized by certain species of modern sponges called demosponges.

“This steroid biomarker is the first evidence that demosponges, and hence multicellular animals, were thriving in ancient seas at least as far back as 635 million years ago,” Zumberge said.

The work builds from a 2009 study by Love’s team, which reported the first compelling biomarker evidence for Neoproterozoic animals from a different steroid biomarker, called 24-isopropylcholestane (24-ipc), from rocks in South Oman. However, the 24-ipc biomarker evidence proved controversial since 24-ipc steroids are not exclusively made by demosponges and can be found in a few modern algae. The finding of the additional and novel 26-mes ancient biomarker, which is unique to demosponges, adds extra confidence that both compounds are fossil biomolecules produced by demosponges on an ancient seafloor.

The study also provides important new constraints on the groups of modern demosponges capable of producing unique steroid structures, which leave a distinctive biomarker record. The researchers found that within modern demosponges, certain taxonomic groups preferentially produce 26-mes steroids while others produce 24-ipc steroids.

“The combined Neoproterozoic demosponge sterane record, showing 24-ipc and 26-mes steranes co-occurring in ancient rocks, is unlikely attributed to an isolated branch or extinct stem-group of demosponges”, Love said. “Rather, the ability to make such unconventional steroids likely arose deep within the demosponge phylogenetic tree but now encompasses a wide coverage of modern demosponge groups.”

A single enzyme found in early single-cell life forms could explain why oxygen levels in the atmosphere remained low for two billion years during the Proterozoic eon, preventing life colonizing land: here.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Pre-Cambrian sponges, world’s oldest animals discovered

  1. Pingback: Two-billion-year old moving organisms discovery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Many Cambrian fossil animals discovered in China | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Comb jellies, jellyfish relatives after all? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Sponges help studying penguin, seal, fish DNA | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: ‘Sponges saved life on earth’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Origins of animals, plants, fungi, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.