Scientists say they discovered remnants of what is potentially the world’s oldest meal in a 550 million-year-old fossil. The fossils in question were discovered only last year. However, researchers from the Australian National University have analyzed and published their findings in the journal Current Biology.
The Ediacaran biota is some of the oldest recorded life on Earth, CNN reports. The group is composed of the oldest fossils discovered, signifying multicellular organisms were around much earlier than previously thought. A fossilized specimen of the slug-like Kimberella was found with molecules of phytosterol preserved in its gut. Phytosterol is a chemical product only found in plants, suggesting that the creature ate algae and bacteria from ocean floors.
Jochen Brocks (a professor at the Australian National University), is the study’s co-author. They indicated that the nutrient-rich algae may have supported Kimberella’s growth. “The energy-rich food may explain why the organisms of the Ediacara biota were so large. Nearly all fossils that came before the Ediacaran biota were single-celled and microscopic in size,” Brocks said in a press release.
The paleontologists believed that Kimberella was one of the most sophisticated creatures to exist during the Ediacaran era. They came to this conclusion because Kimberella had a mouth and gut, which suggests they digested food in a similar way to modern animals.
The fossil that is Earth’s older meal lacked a mouth or gut
“Scientists already knew Kimberella left feeding marks by scraping off algae covering the sea floor, which suggested the animal had a gut,” Brocks said. “But it was only after analyzing the molecules of Kimberella’s gut that we were able to determine what exactly it was eating and how it digested food,” he explained.
The researchers discovered that Dickinsonia, one of Earth’s oldest animals, was a less evolved creature without a mouth or gut. This animal grew to be 4 feet and 5 inches long and had ribs imprinted onto its body.
Dr. Ilya Bobrovskiy is the lead author and researcher from the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences. He discovered the Kimberella and Dickinsonia fossils in the great outdoors near Russia’s White Sea in 2018. By unearthing these ancient relics, Dr. Bobrovskiy is helping scientists rewrite history. They are tracing the evolution of animals and understanding how they relate to their contemporary relatives.
He said that the Ediacaran biota, who lived on Earth before the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ which led to modern animals, were the origin of us and all other animals today. “[They] were a mixed bag of outright weirdos, such as Dickinsonia, and more advanced animals like Kimberella that already had some physiological properties similar to humans and other present-day animals,” he explained in the news release.
“These creatures are our deepest visible roots,” Bobrovskiy explained.