A new study has found evidence of reproduction in the earliest organisms known so far. They’re deepwater, soft-bodied creatures who lived in the ocean around 565 million years ago.
The scientific community refers to them as “rangeomorphs” and labeled them some of the first complex animals to be found on the face of the Earth. The researchers say that these aquatic creatures could grow up to be 6.5 feet (2 meters) long, however most of them only grew to be 4 inches (10 centimeters) long.
An interesting finding is that the organisms don’t seem to have had mouths or organs, and they were unable to move around. They supposedly absorbed nutrients right from the water around them.
Despite all of this, the rangeomorphs had not only one (1), but two (2) highly complex modes of reproduction. When they did reproduce, they first sent an “advance party” to settle in a new neighborhood, then colonized this new neighborhood.
Emily Mitchell, lead author on the study and postdoctoral researcher from the University of Cambridge, the department of Earth sciences, gave a statement to Discovery News saying that “The complexity of Fractofusus’ (a type of rangeomorphs) reproductive mode is intriguing, in part, because it would be surprising if large complex organisms hadn’t existed prior to this development”.
She went on to add that these animals don’t look like anything that scientists have in their fossil records, which makes it very difficult to fully understand them. But Mitchell and her team have developed “a whole new way of looking at them”, which at least helped field experts gain valuable insight into how they reproduced.
The research team studied the fossils of several Fractofusus found in southeastern Canada. The experts combined computer modeling with high resolution GPS and statistical techniques, and managed to find a pattern in the population distribution of the Fractofusus.
The largest members of the population, dubbed “grandparent” specimens, were distributed randomly around the environment and surrounded by smaller members of the population, dubbed “parent” specimens, and even smaller members dubbed “children” specimens.
The researchers inform that modern day plants show the same exact patter of grandparent being surrounded by parents, surrounded by children.
And here’s where the two (2) highly complex modes of reproduction finally get explained. On one hand, ejected waterborne spores or seeds gave birth to “grandparent” specimens, on the other, “runners” sent by older generation gave birth to “parent” and “children” specimens. The latter process is not unlike what can be seen in strawberry plants today.
Mitchell and her team also concluded that Fractofusus reproduced asexually due to their “generational” clustering. Mitchell stressed that the rangeomorphs’ ability to switch between the two (2) modes of reproduction proves that they had a very sophisticated underlying biology “at a point in time when most other forms of life were incredibly simple”.
To this day, researchers are not sure what type of animal the rangeomorphs were, but they hope that the new study will help the scientific community gain a better understanding of the origins of modern day marine life.
The study was published earlier this week, in the journal Nature.
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