back to article Fat chance: Cholesterol leads boffins to discover world's oldest animal fossil – 558m years old

A fossil of the earliest known animal on Earth has been discovered in cliffs along the White Sea on the northwest coast of Russia. The creature, known as Dickinsonia (yes, really), is believed to have been alive around 558 million years ago and could be found bimbling around on the bottom of the sea during the Ediacaran era. …

  1. David 132 Silver badge
    Happy

    Dickinsonia?

    I’m sure there’s a limerick in there somewhere.

    “There was a paleobiologist named Sonia,

    ....”

  2. Spherical Cow

    Just one thing I don't understand...

    "These fossils were located in the middle of cliffs of the White Sea that are 60 to 100 metres high. I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after."

    I understand the helicopter, the ropes, the washing, etc. What I don't get is this: how the hell did he know where to look?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

      "how the hell did he know where to look?"

      Typically, one would look at the talus as the base of the cliff for clues as to what sort of fossils (if any) are exposed in the cliff. If something promising is found, one would try to figure out which layer it came from. In this case, I'd guess they found nicely preserved Ediacarian fossils, or fragments thereof at the base of the cliff, figured out which exposed bed was the source, then rappelled down the cliff to mine fresh, unweathered material. That's only a guess.

      Paleontology can be a rigorous and perhaps at times somewhat dangerous avocation.

    2. Roger Ramjet

      Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

      I understand the helicopter, the ropes, the washing, etc. What I don't get is this: why 'throw' them down?

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

        What I don't get is this: why 'throw' them down?

        It sounds like the sandstone blocks are heavier than what you could easily hold while being hoisted back up into the heli, and getting slings or a net around one requires that you can move it about a bit. Which probably is somewhat hard to do when the block in question is embedded into the side of a steep cliff: once you've sufficiently loosened it, it will succumb to gravity and end up at the bottom of the cliff. And with smaller rocks you probably don't want to be winched up, and then back down again, every time you have collected 20..30kg worth of rocks. Much quicker to chuck them, especially when you have to collect the larger ones from down there anyway.

        'Throw' might be a wacky translation, or maybe you throw the smaller ones away from the cliff side so that they actually land at the bottom and not on some ledge halfway down.

        1. Bitbeisser

          Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

          "It sounds like the sandstone blocks are heavier than what you could easily hold while being hoisted back up into the heli, "

          Reading comprehension is not a strong suite for a lot of people it seems. He had to take a helicopter to get to the cliff, because it is so remote. Then he had to rappel down the edge of that cliff, he was not hanging down on a rope from the helicopter. And because it is pretty hard to try climbing back up to the edge with a huge rock, that rock was thrown down to the bottom of the cliff for further examination...

        2. onefang Silver badge

          Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

          "'Throw' might be a wacky translation,"

          The researchers are Aussies I think, not a lot of translation needed.

      2. Fungus Bob Silver badge

        Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

        "why 'throw' them down?"

        Because throwing up is not fun...

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

      What I don't get is this: how the hell did he know where to look?

      Obvious. Look at its picture. Fingerprints everywhere.

    4. Fungus Bob Silver badge

      Re: Just one thing I don't understand...

      "how the hell did he know where to look?"

      It's sort of like gaydar.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Korev Silver badge
    Joke

    So is this "good" cholesterol?

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Kudos for the pun ; there is no "good" or "bad" cholesterol though. Cholesterom serves as a lipid transporter in the blood, and the transport structures ("lipid droplets", to simplify) have different densities depending on the direction of the transport (to or from reserves).

      An imbalance in the abundance of these different structures reflects an imbalance in the lipid metabolism (it cut both ways : too little "bad cholesterol" also reflects an issue, altough -outside of metabolic diseases- it's much less common in our overfed societies).

    2. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Fat chance

    3. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      It did die, so perhaps not

    4. Solo Owl
      Go

      Re: So is this "good" cholesterol

      It is HDL (high-density lipoprotein), very high density, like a rock.

  5. Tom 7 Silver badge

    So if you want to be remembered

    ditch the statins!

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: So if you want to be remembered

      Seems like sound advice.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

    1/2 a trillion years?

    It's clearly

    1) Very basic

    2) Very important

    Otherwise the genetic drift would changed those genes quite a lot.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

      It's essential for the cells' lipidic membranes properties, including mechanical but also signal sensing and transducing -receptors and "transducers" organisation- and ion exchanges (channels regulation), basically the cell's "life support" systems. So, yeah, pretty darn important.

      On an unrelated note, claiming that "many of" ancient species -or even groups- still live today as the article does is a gross misunderstanding. At best you could claim that many groups still have living representants.

      1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

        It's also the precursor to many hormones, transporters and such, but these roles are believed to be evolutionnary secondary -due to the abundance of the stuff- and in fact vary quite a bit across the animal realm.

    2. gerdesj Silver badge

      Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

      1/2 a trillion years?

      I think you'll find that is 1/2 a treellion years (and could probably do with a few more eeeees). It is a staggeringly long time ago. In the age quoted (558 million years) even the least significant bit is rather a long time: eight million years. Start breaking down the timescales into bits and it all gets a bit overwhelming.

      1. Scott 53

        Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

        "I think you'll find that is 1/2 a treellion years"

        I think you'll find that is 1/2 a billion years. "e"s optional.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

          "I think you'll find that is 1/2 a billion years."

          Only if it is a short billion.

    3. RegGuy1
      Pint

      Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

      Well apart from structural uses, it is also important in making hormones:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steroid_hormone#Synthesis

      On a different point, this animal is 500m years old, but that's still only 1/8th of the age of the earth. So it's quite a recent occurrence. Which makes me think was God around then? Or was God around when the dinosaurs were here? Or did he only bother to turn up 2000 years ago? In which case he's a very recent occurrence.

      A beer to all who found this animal.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: So what does Cholesterol do in the body that's so important the genes are unchanged in

        "Or was God around when the dinosaurs were here?"

        Yes, only instead of a long flowing white beard, God had feathers and very very short arms.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait a minute...

    This must be another liberal attempt at misleading the good lord's flock.

    We all (or at least 4/10 Americans) know the Earth is only 10,000 years old...

  8. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Has anybody asked '80s pop songstress Sonia for comment?

  9. The Jon

    David Dickinsonia

    The creature in the video is a real bobby dazzler.*

    *this comment may only work on British daytime TV veiwing public.

    1. hopkinse
      Joke

      Re: David Dickinsonia

      Where's the bottle of fake tan ;-)

  10. Pete4000uk

    Daddy?

    Is that you?

  11. caffeine addict Silver badge

    Why does the subheader refer to "Richardinsonia"?

    Is it a joke more subtle than most, or has a bawlderising script/editor got involved somewhere it shouldn't?

    ( Since this is about rocks and fossils, should that be boulderising? )

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Because Richard is often shortened to Dick, or was, back in the day when that sort of name-shortening was common.

      So this is a reverse play on that.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Leads to the old joke: -

        Q: How do you get Dick from Richard?

        A: You ask nicely.

      2. caffeine addict Silver badge

        Should have said - yeah, I got that. It just seemed a rather weird joke for our wonderfully childish, pun loving hacks. I'd have expected it the other way round...

        Just reminds me of the Tyson Gay headlines...

        https://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2008/jun/30/computerautocorrectssurname

  12. Nameless Dread

    @ David 132: I’m sure there’s a limerick in there somewhere....

    The fuss Dickinsonia provokes,

    those plentiful sexual jokes,

    augment their transmission

    by prompting coition

    as Charles Darwin's notion evokes.

    ...

    NEXT!!!

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