Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Worm-like fossil a 'distant cousin' of humans - The Canadian Press - cbcnews

Thanks to rod-the-farmer for the link.

A tiny worm-like creature that swam the seas half a billion years ago is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think about who you share your genes with.

But according to a newly released analysis of a fossil unearthed in the Canadian Rockies a century ago, the finger-sized creature — known as Pikaia gracilens — is the oldest known member of the chordates — a group containing all animals with a backbone, including humans.

"It's a very, very distant cousin," Jean-Bernard Caron, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto and the study's co-author, said in an interview. "We share the same genes...we share some of the basic features."

However, the chance that humans might have evolved from the five-centemetre-long creature is a "long shot," cautioned Caron.

The research, published Monday in the British scientific journal Biological Reviews, determined Pikaia has a notochord, a flexible rod found in the embryos of all chordates that makes up part of the backbone in vertebrates
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