Scientists say they found humans' earliest-known ancestor

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and China's Northwest University believe they've found the earliest-known ancestor to humans.

According to a news release, the tiny, bag-like sea dweller has been dubbed the "Saccorhytus." It has a disproportionately large mouth.

Researchers examined fossils dating back 540 million years, and it took considerable effort.

They determined this animal falls under the biological category of deuterostome, which includes vertebrates.

Simon Conway Morris, who was part of the team, said that the fossils they studied look like tiny black grains to the naked eye.

"Under the microscope, the level of detail is jaw-dropping," he said.

The team identified a number of features, including conical passageways that likely served to expel excess water taken in while feeding. It is suggested that those are a predecessor of gills.

The scientists think the creature lived on the bed of a shallow sea and wiggled between grains of sand.

Degan Shu, another team member, said Saccorhytus has given them remarkable insights to the first stages of evolution that led to fish, and ultimately to humans.

See more photos of bizarre creatures:

24 PHOTOS
NOAA Ocean Explorer sea creatures
See Gallery
NOAA Ocean Explorer sea creatures

A purple crinoid hangs out on a dead coral stalk.

(Photo via NOAA)

D2 discovered one of the largest aggregations of brisingid sea stars anyone on the ship had ever seen.

(Photo: NOAA)

Seeing two deep sea animals interacting with each other is rare. What is particularly rare is when they behave the opposite of how we expect them to. As we approached this armored sea robin, a brittle star climbed on top. We were pretty sure that the fish would try to eat the brittle star, but as it turns out, it just wanted to dislodge the extra baggage. The brittle star then proceeded to climb on top of the sea robin two more times.

(Photo via NOAA)

Benthic jellyfish.

(Photo via NOAA)

Brisingid sea stars.

(Photo via NOAA)

Ceramaster granularis. (Goniasteridae)

(Photo via NOAA)

Neomorphaster forcipatus (Stichasteridae).

(Photo via NOAA)

This beautiful hydromedusa was imaged in Washington Canyon. Unfortunately, none of the scientists watching the dive live specialized in water column life.  However, due to the pace at which telepresence allows us to disseminate information, the video of this organism was quickly circulated around the country to experts in the field and the hydromedusa was identified as Cyclocanna welshi with a couple days.

(Photo via NOAA)

We imaged this purple octopus with large glassy eyes during dive #8. 

(Photo via NOAA)

Crossota sp., a deep red medusa found just off the bottom of the deep sea.

(Photo via NOAA)

Anemone attached to a carbonate boulder near the GC852 sampling station at 1,500 meters depth.

(Photo via NOAA)

A lovely sea cucumber dancing in the water column is imaged by the Little Hercules ROV at approximately 1500 meters depth offshore Kona, Hawaii. Image taken during ROV shakedown operations aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer on March 22, 2010.

(Photo via NOAA)

Here, an octopus mother protects her eggs in Hendrickson Canyon. If you look closely, you can see the eyes of a baby octopus through the egg. 

(Photo via NOAA)

Portrait of a juvenile boxfish, 1 cm long, collected by a bluewater diver in the top 30 meters of the Celebes Sea water column.

(Photo via NOAA)

Image of the breathtaking squid captured on camera during ROV Dive 3.

(Photo via NOAA)

Rock hind in a sponge photographed while free diving off Klien Bonaire in about 20 ft. of water.  Image courtesy of Bonaire 2008: Exploring Coral Reef Sustainability with New Technologies, Chris Coccaro, NOAA-OE.

(Photo via NOAA)

(Photo via NOAA)
(Photo via NOAA)
(Photo via NOAA)
(Photo via NOAA)

This stunning octopod, Benthoctopus sp., seemed quite interested in ALVIN's port manipulator arm. Those inside the sub were surprised by the octopod's inquisitive behavior.

(Photo via NOAA)

This giant isopod is a representative of one of approximately nine species of large isopods (crustaceans related to shrimps and crabs) in the genus Bathynomus. They are thought to be abundant in cold, deep waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Bob Carney of LSU caught this specimen in one of his deep-water fish traps.

(Photo via NOAA)

Aulococtena is the size and color of an orange and has two tentacles that are white, thick, unbranched and very sticky. This species has been encountered from 350-1100 meters deep on this expedition.

(Photo via NOAA)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.