Who would have thought that such an insignificantly small creature can have such a powerful, long lasting reproductive cell still present in its fossilized shape? Size does not matter when it comes to potency and the fossilized worm which is no less than 50 million years old is the perfect example in this matter.
A group of scientists has recently discovered ancient sperm cells, the oldest sperm cells yet found. The sample comes from a species of extinct Antarctic worm and was recently found lying in a fossilized cocoon shaped and displayed for sex purposes.
Sperm is usually very fragile and extremely short lived but it seems that somewhere, somehow, nature creates a balance and as small as some creatures may appear, they are bound to hold in powerful characteristics. The recently found fluid is so old that it precedes the previous record holder, namely sperm coming from another tiny creature, a mussel shrimp which had its reproductive substance preserved for over 30 million years.
The ultimate sample of sperm was spotted as the team of researchers leaded by Benjamin Bomfleur used an electron microscope to examine the inner surface of the cocoon fossil, previously collected by an Argentinian expedition on Seymour Island. The territory lies off the Antarctic Peninsula and it seems to host some very precious pieces of evolutionary jewelry.
Sperm cells are extremely delicate by nature and are extremely rarely found in fossils. Another example of ancient sperm was discovered in springtails preserved in Baltic amber. Plant specimens go back further, to double the time of living animals. The oldest sperm sample found in plants dates back 400 million years and it was found in Scotland.
The fluid is partly alive, as there is no extractable DNA left in its fragments, as the chemical composure of the organic material was exposed to change from its original composition over such a long period of time. However, the cells observed and analyzed under the microscope are not mineralized structures of the authentic cell’s shape but instead are bound to retain inner structure.
According to the expert’s declarations, earthworms, leeches and related examples of animals produce extremely resistant cocoons into which they release their set of eggs and sperm.
The quest for further clues leading to the way animals have managed to evolve and preserve their inner structure does not end here. Future studies are set to offer important insights into the progress of the types of worms that are known to secrete cocoons.
“If it should turn out that we can get this information, all of a sudden we would basically unlock an entire fossil record for a group that hardly had any identifiable fossils before”, leading researcher declared.
The 50 million old worm sperm found in Antarctica is a tiny miracle of nature that is trying to signal us about the unknown forces, capacities and potency of wildlife.
Image Source: discovermagazine.com