Rare discovery: Scientists find the first known fossil of a creature from 155 million years ago capable of cloning itself | National

In 2018, an international team of paleontologists made a remarkable discovery in southern Germany: a 155-million-year-old fossil depicting a brittle star, a relative of starfish, frozen in time as it regenerates half of its body. The fossil specimen, named Ophiactis hex, is the first of its kind to display six-fold symmetry and clonal fragmentation, where an organism produces genetically identical offspring by breaking off parts of its own body and regrowing them.

Dr. Ben Thuy, a paleontologist at Luxembourg’s Musée national d’histoire naturelle and co-author of the study, explains that some brittle stars and starfish have an unusual way of reproducing through clonal fragmentation. While the biology of this process is well studied, the evolutionary origin of it is largely unknown. This discovery provides compelling evidence that clonal fragmentation in star-shaped echinoderms has deep evolutionary roots. It suggests that this reproductive strategy, combined with six-fold symmetry and an epizoic lifestyle, has been established as a means of asexual reproduction in ophiuroids since the Late Jurassic.

The Ophiactis hex fossil sheds light on the evolutionary history of these fascinating creatures and adds new insights into their reproductive strategies and lifestyle.

By Sophia Gonzalez

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