Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Our Ediacaran Cousins?

The multi-cellular animal body plans we see today all seemed to have originated, or at any rate first left fossil traces, in the Cambrian, beginning 540 million years ago. They were not the very first multi-cellular animals though. The preceding 100 million years saw the flourishing of the Ediacaran fauna, mysterious tube and frond shaped guys who resembled nothing living today. Or maybe not.

The linked BBC story reports the discovery of some tiny animals that don't look like anything else around today, but when I first saw the picture, I thought "Ediacara?" Apparently some better informed people had the same thought.

A mushroom-shaped sea animal discovered off the Australian coast has defied classification in the tree of life.

A team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen says the tiny organism does not fit into any of the known subdivisions of the animal kingdom.

Such a situation has occurred only a handful of times in the last 100 years.

The organisms, which were originally collected in 1986, are described in the academic journal Plos One.

The authors of the article note several similarities with the bizarre and enigmatic soft-bodied life forms that lived between 635 and 540 million years ago - the span of Earth history known as the Ediacaran Period.

Unfortunately, the method by which they were collected almost 30 years ago destroyed the DNA. Presumably somebody is looking for some more.