What is the largest sponge in the world

Is the sponge the oldest animal in the world?

Creatures with extraordinary characteristics that lend themselves to absurd comparisons or fictional competitions abound in the animal kingdom. Whether the fastest animal sprinter in the world, the heaviest animal that has ever existed on earth, or the largest invertebrate in the oceans - everyone has a different favorite. One would probably not think of sponges or jellyfish right away.

Sponge or comb jelly - who wins?

But you thought wrong, because now the fight for the title “The first animal in the world”, in which sponges and rib jellyfish are at the forefront, is entering a new round: A team from Trinity College Dublin has now come to the conclusion: Contrary to what was previously assumed the first animals in the world were probably the sponges.

Rib jellyfish are quite complex creatures

As already indicated, the whole thing is not that simple. In the search for the first animals, researchers recently came across the so-called rib jellyfish. Rib jellyfish are not a species, but a separate tribe of the animal kingdom. A research team led by Casey Dunn from Brown University came to the conclusion in a study in 2008 that the slimy tissue animals are our most distant animal relatives.

© picture alliance / imageBROKER | R. Dirscherl
Image rights: picture alliance / imageBROKER | R. Dirscherl

Some researchers believe that the comb jelly was the first living thing

And this despite the fact that comb jellyfish are already complex organisms for a potential primordial creature: They have a nervous system and muscles to track down and catch prey, for example, and a continuous intestine to digest them.

Nonetheless, the researchers drew two possible scenarios as the reason for the amazing complexity of the comb jellyfish: They would have developed their special characteristics independently of other animals after they had embarked on a separate evolutionary path. Or: The sponge developed its simpler basic structure from a more complex living being - so it would have regressed, so to speak. A possibility that underscores the fact that evolution does not necessarily have to lead to greater complexity in organisms.

© BR
Image rights: picture alliance / blickwinkel / McPHOTO

When the Israeli researcher Micha Ilan and his team dive into the reefs of the Red Sea, they look for the drugs of the future. Because sponges live here that could help us humans ...

New results come from the sponge

Now the researchers from Trinity College Dublin have questioned this thesis again and have come to the following conclusion: Improved analyzes indicate that sponges are our most distant animal relatives. This in turn would show that, among other things, our muscles and our nervous and digestive systems have a common animal origin.

New analysis method promises higher accuracy

To add another punch to the debate, the research team developed a new approach to analyzing the amino acid sequences that make up an animal's proteins. The method has a particularly high level of accuracy, through which the variety of "hidden" evolutionary substitution processes can be included. An aspect that has not received enough attention, said Aoife McLysaght, professor of genetics at Trinity College.

Findings for biodiversity research

Findings from such studies are crucial for an improved understanding of human evolution and they certainly promise connections to other areas such as biodiversity research. But the last word on the subject has certainly not yet been spoken. After years of discussion, it would probably be a bad April Fool's joke if the scientific debates about sponges and comb jellyfish should now completely fall silent.

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