50-Million-Year-Old Sperm Discovered in Icy Antarctica

Science widely knows that living things like worms and sperms do not fossilize well. However, scientists were in for a shock when they discovered a fossilized sperm from a worm-like creature in Antarctica. The finding was published in the journal Biology Letters on Wednesday. Unfortunately, however, the sperm did not contain any viable DNA which could be used to resurrect the creatures in Jurassic park style!

A team from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, made the unexpected find while examining a cocoon made by one of these ancient animals. These cocoons are extremely resistant to decay. Embedded inside the inner wall of the cocoon, the scientists found, was what looked like a spermatozoa cell. On further investigation, they determined that’s exactly what it is—and concluded that it was 10 million years older than any other fossilized sperm ever found.

It’s likely that these cocoons, which are often found in the fossil record, could have further surprises in store. “I think we might have a really interesting system here that can be sort of a hidden window to the past,” Jakob Vinther, an invertebrate evolution specialist at the U.K.’s University of Bristol, told Nature. “There could be a lot of potential hidden gems inside those cocoons.”

The sperm itself is not enough to determine what the worm like creature looked like or where they would be placed taxonomically, although their sperm resemble those of crayfish worms, leech-like animals that live on freshwater lobsters, according to the study.

The scientists dated the find by using a method called strontium isotope dating. This technique looks at the relative ratio of chemical varieties, or isotopes, of the element strontium, a number that has changed very slowly but predictably over the past tens of millions of years.


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