Fossils dating from 2.1 billion years ago hint that creatures began to move about by themselves – sliming along like slugs – hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously believed.
The fossils – remnants of small tubular structures – were found in rocks in Gabon in West Africa by researchers from Cardiff University.
The fossils are the first creatures believed to have achieved locomotion, with cells grouping together to form something which may have been like slime moulds.
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If the team are correct, the find shakes up the history of evolution – as the previous earliest evidence of moving creatures was from just 0.5 billion years ago.
Dr Ernest Chi Fru, from Cardiff’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: ‘It is plausible that the organisms behind this phenomenon moved in search of nutrients and oxygen that were produced by bacteria mats on the seafloor-water interface.
‘The results raise a number of fascinating questions about the history of life on Earth, and how and when organisms began to move.
‘Was this a primitive biological innovation, a prelude to more perfected forms of locomotion seen around us today, or was this simply an experiment that was cut short?’
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