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New evidence shows mobile animals could have evolved much earlier than previously thought

Date:
May 18, 2011
Source:
University of Alberta
Summary:
Billions of years before life evolved in the oceans, thin layers of microbial matter in shallow water produced enough oxygen to support tiny, mobile life forms.

Microbial mat. Researchers have discovered that billions of years before life evolved in the oceans, thin layers of microbial matter in shallow water produced enough oxygen to support tiny, mobile life forms.
Credit: Courtesy of Murray Gingras

A University of Alberta-led research team has discovered that billions of years before life evolved in the oceans, thin layers of microbial matter in shallow water produced enough oxygen to support tiny, mobile life forms.

The researchers say worm-like creatures could have lived on the oxygen produced by photosynthetic microbial material, even though oxygen concentrations in the surrounding water were not high enough to support life. The research was conducted in shallow lagoons in Venezuela where the high salt content is comparable to oceans older than 500 million years.

The link between biomats and animals is demonstrated by the trace-fossil record, which are tracks left behind by the movements of the worm-like creatures. The trace-fossil records for these animals date to at least 555 million years ago.

These findings suggest that the appearance of animals was not dependent on an oxygenated ocean. Rather, the earliest animals could have live within photosynthetic biomats and derived life-sustaining oxygen from that source.

Scientists believe that complex animals started on Earth roughly between 700 and 600 million years ago, when the oceans were just becoming fully oxygenated.

The researchers say their work opens the door to the search for life in early periods of Earth's history when it was believed there was absolutely no oxygen and no chance of finding life.

The research was led by U of A geologist Murray Gingras and geomicrobiologist Kurt Konhauser. The research was published May 15 online in Nature Geoscience.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Murray Gingras, James W. Hagadorn, Adolf Seilacher, Stefan V. Lalonde, Ernesto Pecoits, Daniel Petrash, Kurt O. Konhauser. Possible evolution of mobile animals in association with microbial mats. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1142

Cite This Page:

University of Alberta. "New evidence shows mobile animals could have evolved much earlier than previously thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110516102255.htm>.
University of Alberta. (2011, May 18). New evidence shows mobile animals could have evolved much earlier than previously thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110516102255.htm
University of Alberta. "New evidence shows mobile animals could have evolved much earlier than previously thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110516102255.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

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