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The Oldest Muscle-head: Fossil Discovery

Aug 27, 2014 02:11 PM EDT
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Artist reconstruction of Haootia quadriformis
Experts have uncovered the fossil of what they believe is the oldest known muscled organism, providing invaluable insight into how muscle tissue developed and evolved from primitive life.
[Pictured: Haootia quadriformis was comprised muscular bundles in a four-fold symmetrical arrangement. This allowed it to flair around on the ocean floor, searching for food.]
(Photo : Martin Brasier)

Experts have uncovered the fossil of what they believe is the oldest known muscled organism, providing invaluable insight into how muscle tissue developed and evolved from primitive life.

A team of researchers reportedly discovered the fossil in Newfoundland, Canada, and have asserted that it is about 560 million years old.

In a collaboration between the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland, the researchers published a study detailing this remarkable fossil find in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Alex Liu of Cambridge, and the lead author of the paper, explained in a recent release that what makes this fossil special is that it is most likely an animal (not a plant) with an incredibly primitive muscular structure. Traditionally, it is harder to identify what an early life form really is prior to about 540 million years ago - when major animal groups first appeared in the fossil records - simply because everything just looked so strange.

"In recent decades, discoveries... have indirectly suggested that animals may have a much earlier origin than previously thought," Liu said.

"The problem is that although animals are now widely expected to have been present before the Cambrian Explosion, very few of the fossils found in older rocks possess features that can be used to convincingly identify them as animals," he explained. "Instead, we study aspects of their ecology, feeding or reproduction, in order to understand what they might have been."

However, this latest fossil, dating to the Ediacaran Period (635-541 million years ago), has evidence of what appears to be a muscle structure similar to that of modern cnidarians - a group consisting of the ocean's more alien animals, like corals, anemones, and jellyfish.

This makes the newly discovered fossil the oldest example of primitive muscle structure ever found, and earned it the name Haootia quadriformis.

According to Liu, the evolution of muscles allowed animals to become "the dominant force in global ecosystems" by enabling them to develop new feeding strategies that take greater control and complex movement.

So the next time you're flexing in the mirror and blowing kisses at yourself, just remember you owe it all to muscle-bound pioneers like Haootia quadriformis.

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