Saccorhytus lived underwater approximately 540million years ago
This incredible Alien-like life form is believed to be the creature than mankind evolved from, according to scientists – although it took a process of 540 million years.
The microscopic marine organism known as saccorhytus is likely to be the earliest example of a group of animals that shaped life on Earth.
Cambridge University experts believe the creature, which measured a mere millimeter in length, is the most basic type of deuterostome, the name given to a broad range of living organisms that include starfish, sea urchins, acorn worms and all vertebrates.
Saccorhytus gets the name from its sack-like features and moved by wiggling furiously. It lived on the sea bed and engulfed its food but had no anus to eject waste.
Simon Conway Morris, of the University of Cambridge, said: “If that was the case, then any waste material would simply have been taken out back through the mouth, which from our perspective, sounds rather unappealing."
That aside, the belief is that saccorhytus, first identified from microfossils found in China’s Shaanxi Province, is the earliest discovered ancestor of a vast array of species which, over millions of years, finally saw Homo sapien evolve.
The strange creature is the earliest ancestor of humans ever discovered
This may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species
Simon Conway Morris, of University of Cambridge
The research was revealed today in the journal, Nature.
Mr Conway Morris added: “We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves.
“To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping.
“All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here.”
Previous deuterostome fossils have been dated back to 520 millions years ago, when they had already begin diversifying into vertebrates, echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins) and hemichordates (acorn worms).
The small conical structures on its body could have evolved into gills on fish
Although it had no anus, one of the features discovered on saccorhytus are small conical structures on its body which may have been the evolutionary precursor of the gills we now see in fish.
The discovery is the latest landmark for an international team of academics that includes researchers from Cambridge University in the UK and Northwest University in Xi'an China.
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It is thought that the Saccorhytus is an early deuterostomes
Degan Shu, from Northwest University, says: “Our team has notched up some important discoveries in the past, including the earliest fish and a remarkable variety of other early deuterostomes.
"Saccorhytus now gives us remarkable insights into the very first stages of the evolution of a group that led to the fish, and ultimately, to us."