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Ancient sea creatures found in China may have link to humans
   2017-01-31 13:47:40    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Meng Xue

An artist's impression of Saccorhytus coronarius, a sea creature that lived 540 million years ago [Photo provided by Jian Han, Northwest University]

Researchers have discovered traces of what may be the earliest known prehistoric ancestor of human beings, calling into question decades of research into human evolution.

45 fossilized sand-dwelling microorganisms were found in Shaanxi Province, northwest China, during a study carried out by an international team of academics, including researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and Northwest University in Xi'an, China.

It was named and introduced in the journal "Nature" on Monday. 

The scientists decided to name it "Saccaorhytus," which essentially means "wrinkled bag," explained Conway Morris, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK to NPR.

Saccaorhytus is a microscopic sea creature, no bigger than a grain of rice that is believed to have lived 540 million years ago. It is a sack-like creature with a large hole resembling a mouth, and spikes resembling teeth.

Conway Morris and his colleagues think that it's a really important find, that the animals could be a distant link to our own human evolution, reports NPR.

"What we have here is an animal which we would suggest is in fact the earliest known deuterostome," Morris says. Deuterostomes are a huge group of organisms that, over the next millions of years would come to include starfish, sea squirts and anything with a spine.
 
This means it may be an ancestor of a major animal group that includes humans.

Imran Rahman, a paleontologist at Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the UK, explains another reason why this find is so interesting. He suggests this rare fossil find indicates that diversity could have gotten started earlier than fossils suggest.

Most other early deuterostome groups are from about 510 to 520 million years ago, but Saccaorhytus is believed to be 540 million years old. 

"Perhaps one of the reasons we didn't see so many animals in the fossil record is because the animals were really small," Rahman says.

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