Scientists recently discovered, by accident, the oldest known sperm to date. The ancient sperm, which predates the previous record holder by over 30 million years, was found inside of a worm cocoon in Antarctica, which has been dated back to 50 million years ago.
The 50 million year old worm sperm not only beats the prior record-holder, fossilized mussel shrimp sperm, it also marks a chance discovery which came as a result of a scanning electronic microscope’s intense magnification which unveiled the existence of sperm cells entrapped within the cocoon’s wall material.
According to the study’s researchers, the sperm was preserved within the cocoon’s wall material after it became trapped prior to complete fossilization in a fashion similar to how bugs and plants are encased in amber and preserved for millions of years, Discovery News reported.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.
Benjamin Bomfleur, one of the study’s authors as well a paleontologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, was quoted by The New York Times as having of the team’s discovery, “It’s a bizarre fossil oddball” which has led them to believe that there may be other fossilized cocoons containing sperm out there. Possibly ones which could help researchers piece the evolutionary history of worms together.
As to how the researchers made the discovery, Bomfleur said that they “noticed these tiny surface structures” while examining the cocoon under very high magnification with a scanning electron microscope and that what they saw seemed to have “tail portions that looked very much like sperm cells.”
Under very high magnification, we noticed these tiny surface structures (…) And they had these tail portions that looked very much like sperm cells.
In other paleontology coverage here at Immortal News, researchers unrelated to the aforementioned discovery of the world’s oldest known sperm found a remarkably well preserved specimen of a tiny toothed bird in what is now northeast Brazil, a discovery which could help scientists fill in the gaps when it comes to the evolution of feathers.