Published On:January 31, 2017, 11:51 am
Along with a wide variety of other species, research scientists have discovered the oldest known human ancestor.
The researchers claim that the fossilised traces of the 540 million year old creature are ‘exquisitely well preserved’.
This microscopic sea-like looking animal is the most former known step on the path of evolution that led to fish and ultimately to humans.
The intricate details of the discovery from central China appear in Nature journal.
The research team states that Saccorhytus is the most archaic instance of a category of animals known as "deuterostomes" which are known to be the most common ancestors of a wide range of species, that included vertebrates, meaning – backboned animals.
Saccorhytus which was discovered was nearly a millimetre in size, and is believed to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed. Even though the fossils were discovered from a dry land, more than half a billion years ago, the creature’s location would have been a shallow sea.
However, the research scientists were not able to locate any evidence that the animal found had an anus, which leads to the conclusion that the species consumed food and excreted from the same orifice.
The study was conducted by an international research team from Germany, China and the UK. One among the team members was Professor Simon Conway Morris from the University of Cambridge.
He said, "To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail was jaw-dropping.”
Further adding, "We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves. All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here."
Degan Shu, who hailed from the Northwest University in Xi’An, Shaanxi Province, where the fossils were discovered stated, "Saccorhytus now gives us remarkable insights into the very first stages of the evolution of a group that led to the fish, and ultimately, to us."
The deuterostome groups which were discovered up till now were from between 510 to 520 million years ago. Already these groups had started to diversify into not just vertebrates, the set of group to which we humans and our ancestors belong and animals like sea urchins and starfish.
It is due to their difference in the appearance it became quite difficult for the research scientists to figure out whether what an earlier, common ancestor probably might have resembled.
The in-depth study concluded that the creature had a symmetrical body, which is an inherited feature by most of its evolutionary descendants, which includes the humans.
The discovered Saccorhytus was covered with flexible, thin skin and muscles, resulting the researchers to come to a conclusion that it displaced itself by contracting the muscles and moved around by wriggling.
The creature had a large mouth as compared to its rest of the body and that being its striking feature. They assume that it mostly ate by swallowing food particles or even other creatures.
One more intriguing feature is the conical structure on its body. The research scientists believe that the conical structures enabled the water to escape which it consumed and hence might probably have been an early version of gills.
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