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This Odd, Alien-Like Tiny Jelly Could Be Your Oldest Living Ancestor

Apr 12, 2017 11:12 AM EDT
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Are jellies our oldest known living ancestor?
(Photo : Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Where did humans come from? The answer might be jellies.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, scientists from the Vanderbilt University and University of Wisconsin-Madison suggested that ctenophores or comb jellies were the first animals on Earth.

For years, the scientific community has been debating whether jellies or sponges came first. Both creatures emerged around 500 million years ago, but one has to come first, right?

According to a report from Gizmodo, this recent study used a new genetic technique to conclude that the oldest of all animal species are the comb jellies, although the interpretative nature of the data might mean that the debate might be far from over.

To prove that the comb jelly has the most ancient genome in the world, the researchers analyzed pre-existing data sets and compared individual genetic markers of comb jellies and sponges, noting how many genes favored one over the other.

"When you look at a particular gene in an organism-let's call it A-we ask if it is most closely related to its counterpart in organism B?" lead author Antonis Rokas explained in an interview with Gizmodo. "Or to its counterpart in organism C? And by how much?"

He added, "When we applied our approach to the jellies/sponges question, we found that all available data sets-eight [phylogenetic data sets] so far-favor jellies over sponges."

Knowing the oldest animal -- human's oldest relative, if you think about it -- is more than just an interesting story, although it is amazing that people eventually developed from these alien-like creatures. The knowledge could be a breakthrough in learning more about the process of evolution.

However, the debate is not yet over. Just a few days before Rokas and his team published their study, a different paper was published in the journal Current Biology, supporting sponges in the great debate as the first animal on Earth.

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