Fossil fat reveals earliest known animal, 558 million years old

2018-09-21 19:17
A Dickinsonia fossil from the White Sea area of Russia. (Ilya Bobrovskiy, Australian National University via AP)

A Dickinsonia fossil from the White Sea area of Russia. (Ilya Bobrovskiy, Australian National University via AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

A strange fossil that looks a bit like a giant leaf, or a fingerprint the size of a coffee table, has puzzled scientists for decades.

Was it a mossy plant? A giant single-celled amoeba? A failed experiment of evolution? Or the earliest animal on Earth?

After digging one of these fossils off a cliff in Russia and analysing its contents, researchers discovered molecules of cholesterol, a type of fat.

And they found their answer. The creature, known as Dickinsonia, is the Earth's earliest known animal.

"Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years" over the nature of these "bizarre fossils", said associate professor Jochen Brocks from the Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences.

"The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of paleontology."

The findings are reported Thursday in the US journal Science.

The Cambrian explosion

Dickinsonia contained rib-like segments the length of its oval-shaped body, which could grow as large as 1.4m.

The analysis showed the animals were abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought, according to Brocks.

The creature was part of the Ediacara Biota that lived on Earth during a time when bacteria reigned, 20 million years prior to emergence of modern animal life – a period known as the Cambrian explosion.

Scientists had a difficult time finding Dickinsonia fossils with organic matter still attached.

Many of the known fossils were in Australia, and had been exposed to too many elements over many millions of years.

The fossil for the current study came from cliffs near the White Sea in the northwest of Russia.

"I took a helicopter to reach this very remote part of the world – home to bears and mosquitoes – where I could find Dickinsonia fossils with organic matter still intact," said Ilya Bobrovskiy, a doctoral researcher at ANU.

"These fossils were located in the middle of cliffs of the White Sea that are 60-100m high. I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after."

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    russia

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.