Giant Amoebae on (Extremely Slow) Rampage

by Jennifer Frazer on March 10, 2010

This is so cool. I totally missed it when it came out in November 2008. If you did too, here’s your second chance.

In Russia, amoeba study YOU.

OK, giant deep-sea amoebae that roll around like possessed dust bunnies? AWESOME. The 411. Though this group had just been discovered in the Arabian Sea in 2000, it seems it was still a surprise to find them *leaving tracks* (although I should emphasize no one can actually see them move in real time. This sounds like a job for the BBC’s magic time-lapse camera). They are testate amoebae, or ameobae that make shells called tests (a few other deep sea protists like foraminifera also make shells called tests, and I just discovered that Chris Taylor over at Catalogue of Organisms just happens to have coincidentally published on the foram version yesterday.). This species, Gromia sphaerica, fits into the Gromiidea on this tree. Just look at all the uncharted territory and things you’ve never heard of. Space is not the final frontier. . . not by a long shot. Not yet.

The bigger, non-motile existing deep-sea protozoans Matz refers to in the video are probably xenophyophores, an outrageously bizarre group alluded to here before. You’ll just have to wait on a post about those another day. And there’s probably lots more giant deep sea protists I don’t know about yet. Readers?

The big take-home message of Matz’s discovery (or at least what they’d like us to take home) seems to be that we could really be misinterpreting Pre-Cambrian fossil trackwaves — that is, the fossil tracks of organisms that predate the blossoming of most modern animal groups in an event called the Cambrian Explosion, ca. 550 million years ago. These tracks can be found in fossils as old as 1.8 billion years (yes, that’s billion with a pinkie to the corner of the mouth). These tracks were for many years interpreted as early modern animals for whom we just didn’t happen to have fossils. But what if they were giant protists? Or something else? Possible, and probably not surprising given the fossils we do have of Ediacaran creatures, they bizarre early animal(?) forms that predate the Cambrian explosion and are the first fossils of complex multicellular organisms we have. They all seem to be soft and, for lack of a better term, pillowy. Yes, like Charmin.

Will we ever know? Probably not. But you never know. A fossil of a recognizable ancestor of a modern animal keeled over at the end of one of these tracks might settle things. On the other hand, simple tracks do tend to look alike. And with hundreds of millions of years on hand, there’s plenty of time for lots of really weird things we’ll never know about to have made them.

You know what this video reminds me of, of course . . .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Psi Wavefunction March 10, 2010 at 1:33 am

Maybe I should actually finish writing up and publish those deep sea protist posts I’ve been sitting on. Ever heard of Komokians? Check ’em out! There’s also some other really cool forams out there, but I’ll stop with the spoilers right there =P

Jennifer Frazer March 10, 2010 at 9:31 am

Can there be too many giant protists on any blog? No. No there can’t. Have not heard of Komokians . . .putting into Googletron now . . .

Jo March 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Ha! Did he say at one point they thought these were “high tech poop, packaged in membranes?” Oh, that made my whole day!

Jennifer Frazer March 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Oh yes he did. : ) I believe he also described his fellow researchers as “sexy”. At The Artful Amoeba, we do not in any way endorse the use of the term “sexy” in proximity to giant benthic protist scientists. We further apologize for any mental scarring that may have come about due to use of said term in proximity to concept of giant benthic protist scientists, or of “high-tech poop”.

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