Washington: A new study by researchers from the University of Missouri and the Virginia Tech suggests that the bacteria involved in the decay of ancient organisms also play a key role in the preservation of fossil.
The team studied a fossilised animal from the Ediacaran Period called Conotubus that lived over 540 million years ago.
Earlier theories on fossil formation focused on passive processes, where normal decay is stopped by sealing off the sediments where the animal is buried.
"Our team is instead detailing a scenario where the actual decay helped 'feed' the process turning the organisms into fossils - in this case, the decay of the organisms played an active role in creating fossils," explained James Schiffbauer, assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Missouri and lead author.
"Most of the animals that had once lived on the earth - with estimates eclipsing 10 billion species were never preserved in the fossil record. But we now have a spectacular view of a tinier fraction of soft-bodied animals," pointed out Shuhai Xiao, professor of geobiology at Virginia Tech.
The decay of the organisms played an active role in creating fossils, showed the study.
"These new findings will help scientists to gain a better grasp of why these fossils are preserved, and what features represent the fossilisation process versus original biology, so, we can better reconstruct the evolutionary tree of life," Schiffbauer concluded.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.