Microscopy & Microtechniques
Have We Found Mankind's Oldest Ancestor?
Feb 12 2017 Read 892 Times
For archaeologists, delving into the history of mankind is endlessly fascinating. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge have made a milestone discovery that offers brand new insight into how the human race evolved.
Estimated to be around 540 million years old, the fossil is ancient to say the least. It was found in China’s Shaanxi province, buried deep in sedimentary rock. The team have named it Saccorhytus coronaries, and describe it as a tiny speck of sand made up of a bag-like body and wrinkled mouth. They also point out that the organism has no anus, as well as thin, flexible skin suggesting that it was made up of muscles.
The bilateral symmetry link
So what prompted the team to compare the wildly unsophisticated organism with modern day humans? Apparently, the creature is bilaterally symmetrical, which is a key feature of homo sapiens. They’ve since acclaimed the fossil as mankind’s oldest known ancestor, and published their findings in the journal Nature.
“To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping,” comments Simon Conway Morris, co-author of the report. “All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here."
The all-important deuterostome link
Encompassing a broad group of vertebrates, echinoderms and hemichordates, deuterostomes are defined by their deuterostomic embryonic development. This sees the first embryotic opening (the blastopore) become the anus, as opposed to protostomes where it becomes the mouth. It was this unique characteristic that led the team to make the connection, and identify the fossil as a prehistoric human ancestor.
Other observations include a quartet of openings on either side of its body, which could be the beginnings of gill slits. Its body is also speckled with tiny pores, which scientists suggest could play a physical or sensory role.
Unravelling the mysteries of the Cambrian period
While this isn’t the first deuterostome that scientists have studied, it is round 20 to 30 million years older than its counterparts. This meant it would have lived in the early Cambrian period, which was an era of mass diversification for the species.
“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,” comments co-author Degan Shu.
Not only does the fossil offer a fascinating glimpse at early evolution, but it could also help to shed light on the fossil record gap mystery.
“If indeed the first of these animals including Saccorhytus were very, very tiny, they could only preserve in very, very exceptional circumstances – they basically slip through the fossilisation net,” explains Morris.
Electron Microscopy plays an intrinsic role in the study ancient fossils. For exciting new insight into the latest industry developments, ‘Electron Microscopy; A Platform Advancing Science at the Crick’ spotlights London’s brand new institute that will house more than 1250 researchers.
Do you like or dislike what you have read? Why not post a comment to tell others / the manufacturer and our Editor what you think. To leave comments please complete the form below. Providing the content is approved, your comment will be on screen in less than 24 hours. Leaving comments on product information and articles can assist with future editorial and article content. Post questions, thoughts or simply whether you like the content.
In This Edition Articles Chromatography - Visiting the 15th International Symposium - New Application Book Offers Expertise in GPC Analysis - Same Separation, Speedier Solution Mass S...
View all digital editions
Mar 20 2018 Warsaw, Poland
Mar 22 2018 Istanbul, Turkey
Mar 23 2018 Beijing, China
Mar 27 2018 Guangzhou, China
Mar 28 2018 Lyon, France