HomeScience & TechDiscovery of a 155-Million-Year-Old Cloning Starfish-like Creature Ophiactis hex

Discovery of a 155-Million-Year-Old Cloning Starfish-like Creature Ophiactis hex

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have unearthed a 155-million-year-old fossil of a starfish-like creature that possessed the extraordinary ability to clone itself. This ancient creature, named Ophiactis hex, was found intact, with all its features remarkably well-preserved. The fossil was excavated in 2018 from a limestone deposit in Germany, a site that was once a deep lagoon teeming with coral meadows and sponge beds, according to Science Alert.

Ophiactis hex, a newly identified species of brittle star, is unique due to its ability to regenerate its body through a process known as clonal fragmentation or fissiparity. This process involves the organism breaking off parts of its own body and regenerating them to produce genetically identical offspring. Dr. Ben Thuy, a paleontologist at Luxembourg’s Musee national d’histoire naturelle, emphasized the rarity and significance of this discovery in his new paper detailing the find.

“While the biology and ecology of clonal fragmentation are comparatively well understood, virtually nothing is known about the evolution and geological history of that phenomenon,” Dr. Thuy explained. The discovery of Ophiactis hex is particularly important because it sheds light on the ancient origins of fissiparity, a phenomenon that scientists have not been able to date precisely.

The fossil of Ophiactis hex is so well-preserved that even the hook-shaped arm spines are visible. This level of preservation is exceptional and provides valuable insights into the morphology and regenerative capabilities of ancient brittle stars. The creature’s name was inspired by the magical supercomputer in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, known for its ability to think the unthinkable.

Dr. Thuy and his team noted the rarity of finding fossils of ophiuroids (brittle stars) with regenerating body parts. “While skeletons of ophiuroids with individual arms frozen in the process of regeneration are relatively common in the fossil record, cases of individuals with a regenerating body half are exceedingly rare,” they stated in the study. This specimen of Ophiactis hex is only the second known case of such a phenomenon and the first where regeneration appears to be linked to six-fold symmetry and clonal fragmentation.

This discovery not only provides a glimpse into the life and capabilities of ancient marine organisms but also offers a valuable perspective on the evolutionary history of regenerative processes. As scientists continue to study Ophiactis hex, they hope to uncover more about the evolutionary timeline and mechanisms that enabled such remarkable regenerative abilities in ancient life forms.

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