Shape-shifters found in the belt supergroup provide more insight into the evolutionary history of eukaryotic organisms
The evolution of eukaryotic organisms – organisms with complex cells or a single cell with a complex structure – represents one of the most important transitional phases in the history of life on Earth as they are linked to all modern living things. However, scientists are unsure of when and where the transition took place.
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Now, researchers from Harvard University claims they have found an answer to the longstanding puzzle. They believe that newfound Tappania plana fossils from a Montana field site could provide the earliest known evidence of eukaryotic organisms. The mircofossils were excavated from the limited rock formations located inside Belt Supergroup in western Montana.
The site has already yielded several early eukaryote fossils but this time around researchers have utilized a new technique to uncover more fossils than ever before. And some of them are probably belong to the group of first eukaryotes.
"You (can) get more interesting fossils if you dissolve the host rocks more gently," said lead study author Zachary Adam, indicating that conventional recovery techniques can destroy fossils before the researchers were able to examine them. “There was some suspicion that the way the rocks were being processed to look for fossils was destroying the more interesting and delicate ones.”
Tappania Plana fossils are closely related to fungus and their samples have been unearthed from multiple sites across the world including India, China, Australia, northwestern US and Serbia. The first time eukaryotic fossils were reported around 20 years ago after an excavation campaign in China and those organisms were shape-shifters that can change shape to turn into bulbs and tube-like structures. However, samples collected from Montana site act a bit differently. They have the ability to grow second membrane and both outer and inner membranes look and function totally different from each other.
"This means there was communication across the wall, directing resources," said Adam. “Further, "this developmental capacity points to it being a crown group eukaryote, (as) evidenced by the expression of these morphological attributes."