Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates

16.08.2011
From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga’s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty — when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it’s a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti – an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar — include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said.

“If you take all the primates that are alive today, they’re all going to have characteristics that look the same, but unlike people, many of them live in trees,” said co-author Jonathan Bloch, an associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “By finding parts of the skeleton of this primitive primate, we are able to test whether nails were present in the common ancestor of the group that includes lemurs, monkeys, and humans — it’s direct evidence as opposed to speculation.”

Appearing in the current online edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study provides a better understanding of the evolutionary relationships of one of the oldest known modern primates, as well as the time frame and environmental conditions that allowed for the development of nails on all fingers and toes, an exclusive feature among primates.

Specimens of T. brandti were collected over the last seven years in northwestern Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin and represent the earliest North American species from the group of euprimates, also known as “true” primates. The fossils date to the early Eocene epoch, about 55.8 million years ago, at the same time as a 200,000-year global warming event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum occurred, Bloch said. Mammals evolved to be smaller during that time, when even- and odd-toed hoofed mammals, distantly related to modern deer and horses, also first appeared in the fossil record.

“The appearance of the first modern primates in North America co-occurred with the appearance of other modern mammals such as horses, and it’s all associated with a major global warming event,” said co-author Stephen Chester, a Yale University doctoral student and research associate at UF. “It in part set the stage for what we see today in terms of modern mammalian biodiversity.”

Less than 6 inches long, T. brandti was omnivorous, Bloch said. While archaic primates mostly had claws, some of the characteristics of modern primates include forward-facing eyes, an enlarged brain and nails on all digits.

“They are the smallest true nails known on record, whether living or fossil,” said first author Ken Rose, a professor in the Center for Functional Anatomy & Evolution at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “That certainly doesn’t suggest nails developed with larger bodies.”

Based on the age of the fossils and analyses of Teilhardina species from other parts of the world, researchers were also able to analyze the hypothesis that mammals migrated from Asia into North America. Instead, they likely passed from Asia, through Europe and into North America on high-latitude land connections.

“This research really suggests that we are looking at something extremely close [to the species found in Europe] and that’s of great interest in itself,” Rose said. “We can show these species were extremely close morphologically in time and found in Europe and Wyoming.”

During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, average temperatures were about 15 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, and the large variety of mammals found in the fossil record from that time remains a mystery to scientists.

“The finding of this animal and the concentrated effort of this period of time might be one of those things where the closer you look, the less you know,” said Gregg Gunnell, director of the Division of Fossil Primates at the Duke Lemur Center. “But any time we have the opportunity to add more morphological information to analyze the relationships of animals to answer these biogeographic questions, we can hopefully get closer and closer to an understanding of what led to this big radiation (diversification) of primates in the first place.”

Study co-authors also include Rachel Dunn of Johns Hopkins University and Doug Boyer of Brooklyn College, City University of New York. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Yale University.

Credits

Writer
Danielle Torrent, dtorrent@flmnh.ufl.edu
Source
Jon Bloch, jbloch@flmnh.ufl.edu, 352-273-1938

Jon Bloch | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ufl.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Mars’ atmosphere well protected from the solar wind
08.12.2017 | Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council

nachricht Study reveals significant role of dust in mountain ecosystems
07.12.2017 | University of Wyoming

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>