Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Novel studies of decomposition shed new light on our earliest fossil ancestry

01.02.2010
Revelations of rotting fish provide scientists with clearer picture of early life

Decaying corpses are usually the domain of forensic scientists, but palaeontologists have discovered that studying rotting fish sheds new light on our earliest ancestry.

The researchers, from the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester, devised a new method for extracting information from 500 million year old fossils -they studied the way fish decompose to gain a clearer picture of how our ancient fish-like ancestors would have looked. Their results indicate that some of the earliest fossils from our part of the tree of life may have been more complex than has previously been thought.

Their findings have been published today, Sunday Jan 31, ahead of print in Advance Online Publication (AOP) of the science journal Nature on www.nature.com The work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Rob Sansom, lead author of the paper explains: "Interpreting fossils is in some ways similar to forensic analysis – we gather all the available clues to put together a scientific reconstruction of something that happened in the past. Unlike forensics, however, we are dealing with life from millions of years ago, and we are less interested in understanding the cause or the time of death. What we want to get at is what an animal was like before it died and, as with forensic analysis, knowing how the decomposition that took place after death altered the body provides important clues to its original anatomy."

This is something that palaeontologists sometimes overlook, according to Sansom, "probably because spending hundreds of hours studying the stinking carcasses of rotting fish is not something that appeals to everyone." But the rewards are worth the discomfort.

Fish-like fossils from half a billion years ago are recognised as being part of our evolutionary history because they possess characteristic anatomical features, such as a tail, eyes and the precursor of a backbone. Sansom continues: "It seems contradictory, but decomposition is an important part of the process by which animals become preserved and fossilized, so by knowing how these important anatomical features change as they rot, we are better able to correctly interpret the most ancient fossils representing the lowest branches of our part of the evolutionary tree."

"These fossils provide our only direct record of when and how our earliest vertebrate ancestors evolved" adds Dr Mark Purnell, one of the leaders of the study. "Did they appear suddenly, in an evolutionary explosion of complexity, or gradually over millions of years? What did they look like? – in what ways did they differ from their worm-like relatives and how did this set the stage for later evolutionary events? Answers to these fundamental questions - the how, when and why of our own origins - remain elusive because reading the earliest vertebrate fossil record is difficult."

The scarcity of branches in this part of the evolutionary tree could reflect rapid, explosive evolution or the simple fact that, because they lacked bones or teeth, the earliest vertebrates left few fossils.

This is the area in which Dr Sarah Gabbott, who with Purnell conceived the Leicester study, is an expert: "Only in the most exceptional circumstances do soft-tissues, such as eyes, muscles and guts, become fossilized, yet it is precisely such remains that we rely on for understanding our earliest evolutionary relatives: half-a-billion years ago it's pretty much all our ancestors had."

The results published today in Nature, show that some of the characteristic anatomical features of early vertebrate fossils have been badly affected by decomposition, and in some cases may have rotted away completely. Knowing how decomposition affected the fossils means our reconstructions of our earliest ancestors will be more scientifically accurate.

You can watch a video of rotting primitive fish here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKk1OFYDPEU

Dr Mark Purnell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.le.ac.uk

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Simple processing technique could cut cost of organic PV and wearable electronics

06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

3-D printed kidney phantoms aid nuclear medicine dosing calibration

06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision

06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>