Only seen through an electron microscope, Saccorhytus coronarius is a newly discovered, but oldest and most primitive deuterostome, a large branch in the animal kingdom that happens to include all vertebrates.
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Described in January’s Nature, the specimen is barely a millimetre long, but the real news is it’s age. It lived about 540 million years ago, pushing back the deuterostome timeline by tens of millions of years.
Cambridge University paleobiologist and study co-author Simon Conway Morris thinks that a strange chemical environment in the seabed was responsible for preserving this specimen in ‘jaw-dropping’ detail.
The bumps around Saccorhytus coronarius’s mouth may look like eyes or noses, but researchers believe these bumps are actually ‘body cones’, which may have been precursors to gills, flushing out any water that Saccorhytus swallowed.
What paleobiologists are certain of, is that this species is the old ancestor to all vertebrate life on our planet.
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