Recently, biologist Mikhail Matz and colleagues were looking in the Bahamas for fish that glow in the dark but instead they found a single-celled critter that may re-write some of the evolution textbooks.
What they found is called a Gromia Sphaerica; a giant single-celled protozoan the size of a grape. These distant relatives of microscopic amoebas were originally discovered in 2000 at the bottom of Arabian sea. One of their more bizarre attributes is that they are surrounded by a squishy shell called a test. The test in turn is filled mostly with stercomata. Ever hear of stercomata? I hadn’t. It’s um…….it’s basically crap. Ugly bags of mostly crap.
As fascinating as all that is, it’s not the meat of this story. When Matz found his posse of protozoans in the Bahamas, they were all resting at the end of a grooves or tracks in the seafloor.
Tracks schmacks right?…The big deal is that single-celled organisms aren’t supposed to make tracks. The long-belief has always been that only multi-cellular life could create tracks including the many known fossilized tracks (called “trace fossils”) made millions of years ago.
Regarding this Matz has said:
“If these guys were alive 600 million years ago, and their traces got fossilized, a paleontologist who had never seen this thing would not have a shade of doubt attributing this kind of trace to the activity of a big, multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal,”
The idea that multi-cellular life made tracks like this made sense to paleontologists because it made the Cambrian Explosion a little more palatable, a little less……explosive. The famous Cambrian Explosion refers to a relatively brief (geologically) period of time over 500 million years ago when most of the body plans used by life today were introduced to the world. It was a unique period in evolutionary history that saw such diversification and rapid niche-filling that Darwin himself assumed that it must be an artifact of an incomplete fossil record.
If the apparently dull and simple pre-cambrian period had complicated life in it leaving tracks all over the place, then that would show that the stage was being set for the coming Cambrian explosion. It was just hard to notice because the multi-cellular life that existed then hadn’t evolved the nice hard parts that fossilized so nicely and made the coming explosion seem so sudden.
If simple little grape-sized amoebas could make these tracks then we really have no solid evidence that the pre-cambrian wasn’t simple and boring. This makes the Cambrian even more interesting and special in my eyes.
Matz then had to go and say this:
“It wasn’t a gradual development of complexity,…Instead these things suddenly seemed to burst out of a magic box.”
You know, this guy Matz seems like a nice guy and he probably made a cool discovery here but did he have to say “MAGIC BOX”?
Talk about giving creationists a freebie. That was really a naïve statement to make considering how easy it is to misinterpret and quote out of context. In fact I found a few anti-evolution websites that jumped all over it.
One of them printed Matz’s quote and then commented with just 3 words: “Need we elaborate”.
Need I elaborate?