Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fossils Turn Out to Be a Rich Source of Information

09.02.2016

For more than 70 years, fossilized arthropods from Quercy, France, were almost completely neglected because they appeared to be poorly preserved. With the help of the Synchrotron Radiation Facility ANKA at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers with substantial participation from the University of Bonn has now been able to X-ray the 30-million-year-old beetle fossils. The internal structures are shown in such detail that the scientists were able to create an extensive description and an evolutionary analysis of the beetles. The results of this study have now been published in the professional journal “eLIFE.”

The beetles, just a few millimeters long, come from a collection of fossilized arthropods – mainly insects – that was collected in Quercy, France more than 100 years ago. “The last time they were studied in detail was in 1944. Until now, people were mainly interested in the vertebrates from this fossil site,” says paleontologist Dr. Achim Schwermann from the Steinmann Institute at the University of Bonn. One reason the insects had been so neglected until now is that the samples outwardly seemed poorly preserved.


The rock has created a detailed mold of the beetle’s fragile legs and outer structure, thereby preserving them. Internal organs, for instance the genitalia, have also been preserved in a mineral way.

(c) Photo: Achim Schwermann/Thomas van de Kamp


Preparation: (A) The fossilized beetle. (B) Digital model: the actual beetle (green) protrudes slightly from the rock (brown). (C) The digital preparation reveals an image of the encased body parts.

(c) Photo: Achim Schwermann/Thomas van de Kamp

With the help of modern imaging methods, however, their internal structures could now be unlocked. The researchers analyzed the fossils in the Synchrotron Radiation Facility ANKA at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), using X-ray computed tomography. That allowed them to create a three-dimensional image of the insides of the opaque fossils.

“The actual measurement process only took a few seconds,” explains engineer Tomy dos Santos Rolo from the KIT in Karlsruhe. “During that time, the object is rotated in the path of the X-ray and imaged from various directions. After the measurement, we can digitally reconstruct the three-dimensional object.”

Reconstruction allows for a modern description

This digital reconstruction of one beetle-specimen quickly showed that it was a male animal. “The genitals have been preserved, for the most part,” says biologist Dr. Heiko Schmied from the University of Bonn. “That gives us an opportunity to describe the beetle as a representative sample according to modern standards.” Beetle species in particular are often classified based on the shape of their genitalia.

An evolutionary analysis allowed the researchers to re-evaluate how the fossilized beetle species fit into the family of hister beetles (Histeridae), a family that still exists today. “I have never seen the inside of a hister beetle in such detail before,” remarks Dr. Michael Caterino from Clemson University, South Carolina. In addition to the well-preserved genitalia, this specimen also shows mouth parts and the throat, the gastrointestinal tract and the complex respiratory system.

“A diamond in the rough”

The scientists discovered that the outwardly unpromising beetle fossils had internal organs that were amazingly well preserved. The precise detail in the fossilized beetles goes well beyond what is normally seen in fossilized arthropods. “The unusually well-preserved soft tissue shows that the beetles must have become petrified within a very short amount of time, probably hours or days,” explains Dr. Schwermann.

One beetle specimen that is partly embedded in the rock shows the outer structure of the carapace. The attached rock thus conveys what the beetle’s outer shell originally looked like. “Surprisingly, the beetle that looks the least well preserved from the outside has the best level of preservation inside,” says biologist Dr. Thomas van de Kamp from the KIT in Karlsruhe. The attached rock protected even its fragile extremities from being destroyed by external environmental influences.

Unexpected potential in old collections

While the fossilized arthropods from Quercy in France were considered less interesting during their initial study in the 1940s, this old collection turns out to be a rich source of information. “That makes us, as researchers, look at the old collections in museums and universities in a new way,” says Dr. Schwermann. The research team now plans to study other similarly preserved fossils. The fact that the Quercy beetles had been largely ignored for 70 years highlights the unrecognized potential of old collections.

Publication: Achim H. Schwermann, Tomy dos Santos Rolo, Michael S. Caterino, Günter Bechly, Heiko Schmied, Tilo Baumbach and Thomas van de Kamp: Preservation of three-dimensional anatomy in phosphatized fossil arthropods enriches evolutionary inference; “eLife”; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.12129
Media contact:

Dr. Achim H. Schwermann
Steinmann Institute
University of Bonn
Tel: +49-228-733102
Email: achim.schwermann@uni-bonn.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.12129 Publication online

Johannes Seiler | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-bonn.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>