Billion-Year-Old Fossil Discovered – Reveals Missing Link in the Evolution of Animals

Loch Torridon

A billion year old fossil, which provides a new link in the evolution of animals, has been discovered in the Scottish Highlands.

  • Scientists have discovered the fossil of an organism with two distinct cell types,  thought to be the oldest of its kind ever recorded
  • The fossil reveals a new insight into the transition of single-celled holozoa into more complex multicellular animals
  • Found in the Scottish Highlands, the fossil suggests the evolution of animals occurred at least one billion years ago and may have occurred in freshwater lakes rather than the ocean

A team of scientists, led by the University of Sheffield in the UK and Boston College in the USA, has found a microfossil that contains two distinct cell types and could be the earliest multicellular animal ever recorded.

The fossil reveals new insight into the transition of single-celled organisms to complex multicellular animals. Modern single-celled holozoa include the most basal living animals, the fossil discovered shows an organism that lies somewhere between single-cell and multicellular animals.

The fossil has been described and formally named Bicellum Brasieri in a new research paper published in Current Biology.

Image of the fossil. Credit: Professor Paul Strother

Professor Charles Wellman, one of the lead investigators of the research, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: “The origins of complex multicellularity and the origin of animals are considered two of the most important events in the history of life on Earth, our discovery sheds new light on both of these.

“We have found a primitive spherical organism made up of an arrangement of two distinct cell types, the first step towards a complex multicellular structure, something which has never been described before in the fossil record.

“The discovery of this new fossil suggests to us that the evolution of multicellular animals had occurred at least one billion years ago and that early events prior to the evolution of animals may have occurred in freshwater like lakes rather than the ocean.”

Professor Paul Strother, lead investigator of the research from Boston College, said: “Biologists have speculated that the origin of animals included the incorporation and repurposing of prior genes that had evolved earlier in unicellular organisms.

“What we see in Bicellum is an example of such a genetic system, involving cell-cell adhesion and cell differentiation that may have been incorporated into the animal genome half a billion years later.”

The fossil was found at Loch Torridon in the Northwest Scottish Highlands. Scientists were able to study the fossil due to its exceptional preservation, allowing them to analyze it at a cellular and subcellular level.

The team hope to now examine the Torridonian deposits for more interesting fossils which could provide more insight into the evolution of multicellular organisms.

Reference: “A possible billion-year-old holozoan with differentiated multicellularity” by Paul K. Strother, Martin D. Brasier, David Wacey, Leslie Timpe, Martin Saunders and Charles H. Wellman, 13 April 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.051

The research is mainly funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

EvolutionPaleontologyPopularUniversity of Sheffield
Comments ( 12 )
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  • Alex

    Hmm… Looks like a proto-micro-biome. Mutualism. Maybe a primitive form of what would become a stromatolite (algae bound together with bacterial “glue”), and Golgi bodies found in complex organisms. LOL: The “common sense” of COMMUNITY in its most basic form: I’ll eat what you excrete and we’ll keep OUR act together in a hostile world… Goes to show that there is nothing new under the Sun 🌞, even though the Sun might be eclipsed from time-to-time. Soldier on!

  • Eric M.Jones

    “Missing Link”
    Don’t throw a bone to or even acknowledge the anti-evolutionists.

  • GHOSTRIDER

    Everything all those articles are completely ridiculous you go on to say you created artificial life in the lab then you say you have no idear how a cell works and a team of scientists years to maybe understand and that’s a big maybe how a few genes only 2 might work and you claim you created artificial life please it’s a want to be story for your evolution theory that uses know deep down is ridiculous you have no missing links and with the diversity of life they would be everywhere and might I say if you did create life in a lab would you not be the God of that life it’s great intelligent designer it differently wouldnt be an accident like you think you are and through billions of years its a scientist looking back at what it was give your head a shake bud that is totally ridiculous and your a scientist come on an intelligent man your making a fool of yourself .

  • Dan Durkin

    Dear Ghostrider,
    HUH?
    -dan

  • Mike

    This discovery doesn’t explain the how
    If the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the evolution of life occurred as early as 1 billion years ago.
    What happened before to start such a process?

  • ballat jousj

    ghostrider, evolution is REAL?!? ……..we have evidence and proof to backup and support evolution?!? ……..what evidence do YOU have?!? …….. a BOOK?!? ……….yeah, I’ll(and MOST people) just stick with evolution?!? ……….DUMBASS?!?…..

  • ballat jousj

    And,(AGAIN?!?>:() we have EVIDENCE and proof?!?…… like fossils, DNA, Frozen ICE age bodies?1? ……..if you don’t want to “believe” in evolution?!? …….then……FINE?!? ……but do NOT come on/into SCIENTIFIC websites?!? …….and spout that religious NONSENSE?!? around?!? …….. and INSULT the CREATOR of the scientific website?!? ……..JUST because they don’t believe in a(MOST likely?!?) FAIRYTALE?!? ……..DUMBASS?!?……>:(

  • ballat jousj

    “rIdIcOuSly”?!? ……..you know what’s REALLY “rIdIcOuSly”?!? ……..some people still believing in a CENTURIES old FAIRYTALE/folktale?!? ………FREAKING moron?!? ………>:(

  • John palagonia

    My neighbor Larry says a big rock came here
    And u know yeah like u know he says It did sumptin
    like how he has the best lawn in the neighborhood
    Why don’t I have a lawn like he does

  • Raveneyes

    Trying to convince some folks that evolution is real is like trying to convince a chimpanzee to trade a banana for a bar of gold. Some folks rather just have the banana, it tastes better.

  • Mensa Man

    I agree with the comment that ” It is stupid to put your faith in a ‘fairy-tale’ written in a book with no supporting evidence” I suppose that is why ‘The origin of the species’ is still referred to as the “Theory” of Evolution as it is not proven or scientifically sound.

  • Arby Ansiel

    Well, that’s all well and good, but do you evolutionists have any proof that all life on Earth evolved from one species to another, like bacteria into a frog? Do you have any proof that a Tyrannosaurus Rex (species 1) evolved into a Velociraptor (species 2) then evolved into a chicken (species 3)? Or do you have any legitimate proof of arboreal and floral evolution (thorns on a rose?)? This “billion-year-old” bicellem is no legitimate proof of evolution at all. It looks like a gelatinous glob of herbivore poop that was left in a Scottish lake.