Fat from 558 million years ago reveals earliest known animal

Scientists have discovered molecules of fat in an ancient fossil to reveal the earliest confirmed animal in the geological record that lived on Earth 558 million years ago.

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It figures … and the earliest known predators probably died of cholesterol poisoning …


And with that we have evidence supporting that the Cambrian Explosion was not an explosion of diversity at all, but perhaps of calcification of skeletons or numbers of animals.

“The fossil fat molecules that we’ve found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought,” said Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

The strange creature called Dickinsonia , which grew up to 1.4 metres in length and was oval shaped with rib-like segments running along its body, was part of the Ediacara Biota that lived on Earth 20 million years prior to the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of modern animal life.

“Most rocks containing these fossils such as those from the Ediacara Hills in Australia have endured a lot of heat, a lot of pressure, and then they were weathered after that – these are the rocks that palaeontologists studied for many decades, which explained why they were stuck on the question of Dickinsonia 's true identity.”

Palaeontologists normally study the structure of fossils, but Mr Bobrovskiy extracted and analysed molecules from inside the Dickinsonia fossil found in ancient rocks in Russia to make the breakthrough discovery.

“I took a helicopter to reach this very remote part of the world – home to bears and mosquitoes – where I could find Dickinsonia fossils with organic matter still intact,” Mr Bobrovskiy said.

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@T.j_Runyon, can you explain the logic here?

Now it makes sense, the abstract says:

Ediacaran macrofossils are as “strange as life on another planet” and have evaded taxonomic classification, with interpretations ranging from marine animals or giant single-celled protists to terrestrial lichens. Here, we show that lipid biomarkers extracted from organically preserved Ediacaran macrofossils unambiguously clarify their phylogeny. Dickinsonia and its relatives solely produced cholesteroids, a hallmark of animals.

They couldn’t tell if it was animal or vegetable. However, this is some poor reporting too. It was cholesterol that was detected, not “fat”, and cholesterol is a hallmark of animals.


I have my suspicions but im a little unsure myself. I sent an email to Jochen for clarification.

How will the DI respond? I see it responding in two ways:

  1. This still doesn’t explain where the information to build bodies came from
  2. Question the scientists intepretation and accuse them of naturalistic evolutionary bias.