Recent research by Dr. Mángano and Dr. Buatois, performed in collaboration with researchers from around the world, suggests that organisms were capable of movement much earlier than previously thought.
Around 80 specimens of 1 to 6 millimetre-sized, pyritized, string-shaped structures were collected from the Francevillian Basin in Gabon and subjected to a slew of analyses in order to determine their origin. The structures were found to have been formed within the sediment, lithified prior to compaction with open pore spaces, and filled with pyrite formed from sulfide generated by sulfate-reducing microorganisms.
After a careful comparison with several abiotic structures such as syneresis cracks and microbial mat roll-ups, as well as various biotic strucutres, it was determined that these structures were likely produced by a motile organism. It is unlikely that they were produced by a metazoan, since the structures change in width along their length, and sometimes merge. More likely, the research suggests, is that these trace fossils were formed by something akin to a slime mold.
The organism was opportunistic, evolving and living thanks to a temporary rise in oxygen levels at the time. When oxygen levels dropped again, and stayed low until roughly 650 million of years ago, the organism probably went extinct. As a result, it’s impact on the evolution of life on earth was probably short-lived.
By Brittany Laing