Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chinese fossils shed light on evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors

Date:
December 23, 2011
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in the Earth's history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China.

570 million year old multicellular spore body undergoing vegetative nuclear and cell division (foreground) based on synchrotron x-ray tomographic microscopy of fossils recovered from rocks in South China. The background shows a cut surface through the rock - every grain (about 1 mm diameter) is an exceptionally preserved gooey ball of dividing cells turned to stone.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Bristol

Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth's history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

All life evolved from a single-celled universal common ancestor, and at various times in Earth history, single-celled organisms threw their lot in with each other to become larger and multicellular, resulting, for instance, in the riotous diversity of animals. However, fossil evidence of these major evolutionary transitions is extremely rare.

The fossils, reported this week in Science, preserve stages in the life cycle of an amoeba-like organism dividing in asexual cycles, first to produce two cells, then four, eight, 16, 32 and so on, ultimately resulting in hundreds of thousands of spore-like cells that were then released to start the cycle over again. The pattern of cell division is so similar to the early stages of animal (including human) embryology that until now they were thought to represent the embryos of the earliest animals.

The researchers studied the microscopic fossils using high energy X-rays at the Swiss Light Source in Switzerland, revealing the organisation of the cells within their protective cyst walls. The organisms should not have been fossilized -- they were just gooey clusters of cells -- but they were buried in sediments rich in phosphate that impregnated the cell walls and turned them to stone.

Lead author Therese Huldtgren said: "The fossils are so amazing that even their nuclei have been preserved."

Co-author Dr John Cunningham said: "We used a particle accelerator called a synchrotron as our X-ray source. It allowed us to make a perfect computer model of the fossil that we could cut up in any way that we wanted, but without damaging the fossil in any way. We would never have been able to study the fossils otherwise!"

This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.

Professor Philip Donoghue said: "We were very surprised by our results -- we've been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals -- much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result."

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: "These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells."

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Swedish Research Council, the Paul Scherrer Institut, Ministry of Science and Technology of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and EU FP7.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Therese Huldtgren, John A. Cunningham, Chongyu Yin, Marco Stampanoni, Federica Marone, Philip C. J. Donoghue, Stefan Bengtson. Fossilized Nuclei and Germination Structures Identify Ediacaran “Animal Embryos” as Encysting Protists. Science, 23 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6063 pp. 1696-1699 DOI: 10.1126/science.1209537

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Chinese fossils shed light on evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111222142444.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2011, December 23). Chinese fossils shed light on evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111222142444.htm
University of Bristol. "Chinese fossils shed light on evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111222142444.htm (accessed October 19, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 14, 2014) A hoard of Viking artifacts dating back over 1,000 years is discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Scotland. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Early Apple 1 Computer Set for Auction

Early Apple 1 Computer Set for Auction

AP (Oct. 10, 2014) A vintage Apple computer and a letter by Charles Darwin on the sex life of barnacles are among the unusual pieces of science history that go up for auction in New York later this month. (Oct. 10) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Archaeologists Find 200,000-Year-Old Pre-Neanderthal Bones

Archaeologists Find 200,000-Year-Old Pre-Neanderthal Bones

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 9, 2014) French archaeologists say they have discovered historically significant pre-Neanderthal remains which give insight into the behavior of the extinct human species. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins