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Earliest Shelled Creatures Were Complex

Half-Billion-Year-Old Ocean Denizen Found to Be Armored


Friday, October 30, 2009

A graduate student at UCSB is shedding light on one the earth’s first shelled organisms. John Moore, a doctoral student in geology, went to central China to study and collect remains of Cambrothyra ampulliformis, which lived in the Early Cambrian period. This was a time when life in the oceans diversified wildly, giving rise to many of the major animal groups that are still alive today, according to Moore.

C. ampulliformis was first thought to be a single-celled organism with an vase-shaped outer shell, but Moore’s analysis supports the view that it was multicellular - indeed, several centimeters long - with an outer armor composed of thousands of the pieces once thought to be individual shells. This idea was originally argued by Chinese researcher Quan Yi in 2000.

The creature lived way before dinosaurs, which dominated the landscape about 230 million years ago. C. ampulliformis lived 520 million years ago.

Moore and his team are currently working with the fossils at UCSB, and when they are finished, the remains will be taken to Nanjing, China, to be kept in the permanent collections of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology.

The fossils will not be displayed to the public due to their minute size.

Moore presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon, in October He completed the work in collaboration with his advisor Susannah Porter, assistant professor in the Department of Earth Science at UCSB; Michael Steiner of the Freie Universit┬Ąt, Berlin; and Guoxiang Li of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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