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No. 46: Jul-Aug 1986

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Which came first?

The advent of complex life keeps getting pushed back farther and farther in time, as evidenced by the following abstract:

"Microfossils resembling fecal pellets occur in acid-resistant residues and thin sections of Middle Cambrian in Early Proterozoic shale. The cylindrical microfossils average 50 x 110 microns and are the size and shape of fecal pellets produced by microscopic animals today. Pellets occur in dark gray and black rocks that were deposited in the facies that also preserves sulfide minerals and that represent environments analogous to those that preserve fecal pellets today. Rocks containing pellets and algal microfossils range in age from 0.53 to 1.9 gigayears (Gyr) and include Burgess Shale, Greyson and Newland Formations, Rove Formation, and Gunflint Iron-Formation. Similar rock types of Archaean age, ranging from 2.68 to 3.8 Gyr, were barren of pellets. If the Proterozoic microfossils are fossilized fecal pellets, they provide evidence of metazoan life and a complex food chain at 1.9 Gyr ago. This occurrence predates macroscopic metazoan body fossils in the Ediacaran System at 0.67 Gyr, animal trace fossils from 0.9 to 1.3 Gyr, and fossils of unicellular eukaryotic plankton at 1.4 Gyr."

(Robbins, Eleanora Iberall, et al; "Pellet Microfossils, Possible Evidence for Metazoan Life in Early Proterozoic Time," National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings, 82:5809, 1985.)

The senior author of the above paper also submitted a unique interpretation of the data by J.C. Stager. Stager begins by noting that the paper of Robbins et al has been criticized because the earliest known fossils of metazoans date back to only about 1 Gyr and, therefore, the supposed pellets were obviously something else. Sager next makes a giant conceptual leap: Quite clearly the data prove that feces evolved before animals did!! He goes on:

"In standard systematic reasoning, one assumes that the most widespread characteristic represents the primitive state. The fact that feces look so much the same from individual to individual strongly suggests that feces are the primitive condition. The variety of animal bodies, on the other hand, implies that bodies are secondary or derived features of the organisms. The expansion of genetic research in the twentieth century has led to the conclusion among many geneticists that bodies exist solely for the propagation and dispersal of genes. This perspective has been dubbed 'the selfish gene theory'. While the author acknowledges the insight and creativity that went into the selfish gene theory, it must be pointed out that the idea has not been carried far enough by the geneticists. Where did the genes come from in the first place? Who ever heard of a sea bottom made up of DNA ooze? It is obvious from the fossil data that feces were teeming in the Precambrian oceans well before DNA appeared on the face of the earth, and that feces were therefore the original driving force of life. Bodies exist for the propagation and dispersal of feces, and genes are simply the instructions used by feces in the manufacture of those bodies. This concept is best described as the 'selfish feces theory'."

(Sager, J. Curt; "The Origin of Feces," Journal of Irreproducible Results," p. 20, 1986.)

From Science Frontiers #46, JUL-AUG 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss