Human share genes with 555-MILLION-year-old headless ‘sea monsters,’ study finds

The earliest multicellular organism are believed to be without heads, legs or arms and a new study reveals modern-humans share genes with the ancient

The earliest multicellular organism are believed to be without heads, legs or arms and a new study reveals modern-humans share genes with the ancient ‘sea creatures.’

Geologists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) uncovered a number of 555-million-year-old oceanic creatures from the Ediacaran period to examine appearance and likely behaviors that are found in genetic markers of modern animals.

These markers include genes involved in the formation of nervous systems and self-repairing abilities that are an element of the human immune system.

Researchers believe the organisms possessed the genetic building blocks to produce heads and sensory organs, but the interaction between those building blocks was not yet evolved enough to create the concentrated nervous systems.

The earliest multicellular organism are believed to be without heads, legs or arms and a new study reveals modern-humans share genes with the ancient 'sea creatures.' Pictured is a Dickinsonia that may of had self-repairing abilities that are similar to humans

The earliest multicellular organism are believed to be without heads, legs or arms and a new study reveals modern-humans share genes with the ancient ‘sea creatures.’ Pictured is a Dickinsonia that may of had self-repairing abilities that are similar to humans

Mary Droser, a geology professor at UCR:’ None of them had heads or skeletons. Many of them probably looked like three-dimensional bathmats on the sea floor, round discs that stuck up.’

‘These animals are so weird and so different, it’s difficult to assign them to modern categories of living organisms just by looking at them, and it’s not like we can extract their DNA — we can’t.’

For their analysis, the researchers considered four animals representative of the more than 40 recognized species that have been identified from the Ediacaran era – all of which were no larger than one-foot.

They used the fossilized appearance and hypnotized the likely behavior of each creature to link them to genetic analysis of currently living things. 

Researchers examined Kimberella that were teardrop-shaped creatures with one broad, rounded end and one narrow end that likely scraped the sea floor for food with a proboscis. They used a 'muscular foot' to move around, which is similar to that of today's snail

Researchers examined Kimberella that were teardrop-shaped creatures with one broad, rounded end and one narrow end that likely scraped the sea floor for food with a proboscis. They used a ‘muscular foot’ to move around, which is similar to that of today’s snail

Researchers believe the organisms possessed the genetic building blocks to produce heads and sensory organs, but the interaction between those building blocks was not yet evolved enough to create the concentrated nervous systems

Researchers believe the organisms possessed the genetic building blocks to produce heads and sensory organs, but the interaction between those building blocks was not yet evolved enough to create the concentrated nervous systems

Researchers examined Kimberella that were teardrop-shaped creatures with one broad, rounded end and one narrow end that likely scraped the sea floor for food with a proboscis.

They used a ‘muscular foot’ to move around, which is similar to that of today’s snail.

The study also highlighted the oval-shaped Dickinsonia that features a series of raised bands on their surface, and Tribrachidium that spent their lives immobilized at the bottom of the sea. 

However, Tribrachidium used regulatory programming similar to that present in modern cnidarians, which includes jellyfish and coral.

Also analyzed were Ikaria, animals recently discovered by a team including UCR doctoral graduate Scott Evans and Droser.

These creatures  were about the size and shape of a grain of rice, and represent the first bilaterians — organisms with a front, back, and openings at either end connected by a gut. 

For their analysis, the researchers considered four animals representative of the more than 40 recognized species. Pictured is a Tribrachidium that spent their lives immobilized at the bottom of the sea

For their analysis, the researchers considered four animals representative of the more than 40 recognized species. Pictured is a Tribrachidium that spent their lives immobilized at the bottom of the sea

Also analyzed were Ikaria that were about the size and shape of a grain of rice, and represent the first bilaterians — organisms with a front, back, and openings at either end connected by a gut

Also analyzed were Ikaria that were about the size and shape of a grain of rice, and represent the first bilaterians — organisms with a front, back, and openings at either end connected by a gut

Evans said it’s likely Ikaria had mouths, though those weren’t preserved in the fossil records, and they crawled through organic matter ‘eating as they went.’

All four of the animals were multicellular, with cells of different types. 

Most had symmetry on their left and right sides, as well as noncentralized nervous systems and musculature.

Additionally, they seem to have been able to repair damaged body parts through a process known as apoptosis. 

The same genes involved are key elements of human immune systems, which helps to eliminate virus-infected and pre-cancerous cells.

These animals likely had the genetic parts responsible for heads and the sensory organs usually found there. However, the complexity of interaction between these genes that would give rise to such features hadn’t yet been achieved.

‘The fact that we can say these genes were operating in something that’s been extinct for half a billion years is fascinating to me,’ Evans said.

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