A 200-million-year-old microfossil has finally been identified, and it’s very strange

A 200-million-year-old microfossil has finally been identified, and it’s very strange

The secret identity of a strange group of fossils has been revealed after paleontologists reviewed nearly 500 papers and were able to watch the world’s first microscopic observations on YouTube. The fossils look a bit like a skinned fingerprint, but they are actually the encysted remains of a group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals.

Fossils have been misidentified over the years because of strange lines or “ribs” that mark their surface, making them look like fingerprints. Because they are not sure what to do with it, scholars have criticized this name PseudoschizophreniaThey imagined it was some kind of missile, but new research suggests an alternative explanation.

An international team realized they might be looking at euglinoids, a group of single-celled protists that are neither plants nor animals. Like plants, eugenoids photosynthesise, but like animals, they also eat. They are thought to date back about a billion years, the beginning of the eukaryotic branch of the tree of life, but we haven’t found many of them in the fossil record.

To test whether they had found something, the team examined hundreds of sources related to similar animals Pseudoschizophrenia, which covers specimens dating back approximately 500,000 years in the fossil record. The theory was that the fossils might be encysted euglenoids, a magic trick they used to survive in harsh conditions by curling up into a small ball. A skill that could explain why they lasted so long on Earth.

“Maybe it has to do with their ability to decompose. These organisms have endured and survived every major extinction on the planet,” Bas van de Schotbrugge, then at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, said in a statement. “Unlike giant creatures destroyed by volcanoes and asteroids, these tiny creatures have survived it all.”

The only problem was that no one had yet been able to observe eugnoid cysts in the laboratory, but then along came microscopy enthusiast Fabian Weston from Sydney, Australia. His footage of water taken from a nearby pond in New South Wales and posted on YouTube ended up capturing the moment Euglena They swelled and formed cysts with small stripes similar to those seen in our mysterious fossils.

“Fabian unwittingly provided key evidence,” said Paul Strother of Boston College. “He’s probably the only person on the planet who has witnessed it Euglena The cyst under the microscope.”

The results enabled the team to create a timeline of euglins dating back 400 million years, pieced together with the help of 200 million-year-old fossils and pond sediments from the Triassic and Jurassic boundary, as well as extant euglinids that lived and formed. today.

“This opens the door to identifying even older examples, for example from Precambrian records that go back to the root of the eukaryotic tree of life,” Strother concluded.

“Now that we know which organisms produced those cysts, we can also use them in paleoecological explanations. Their abundance around two of the largest mass extinction events of the past 600 million years is a clear sign of some major upheaval on the continents associated with increased rainfall under Harsh greenhouse climate conditions.

The study was published in the journal Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology.

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