Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientist challenges interpretation of new find, the oldest primate fossil ever discovered

31.12.2003


Find opens debate about whether man’s earliest ancestors came from Asia and were diurnal or nocturnal



A skull and jawbones recently found in China is the oldest well-preserved primate fossil ever discovered – as well as the best evidence of the presence of early primates in Asia. But the fossil raises the tantalizing possibility that remote human ancestors may have originated in Asia and stirs up debate about the nature of early primates.

In the words of Robert D. Martin, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Chicago’s Field Museum, "It was once thought that primates originated in North America because that’s where the earliest fossils were found initially; but we should be more open-minded. We still do not know the area of origin of the primate lineage that eventually led to humans, and this new find firmly brings Asia into the picture."


Xijun Ni and colleagues describe the fossil as Teilhardina asiatica, a new species of a genus first recognized from Belgium, in the Jan. 1, 2004, issue of Nature. At 28 grams, T. asiatica is smaller than any modern primate, and its size and sharp tooth cusps indicate that it was an insect-eater.

But a "News & Views" commentary in the same issue of Nature by Dr. Martin disagrees with part of the authors’ interpretation of their new find.

Based on T. asiatica’s small eye sockets relative to skull length, Ni and colleagues maintain that the small predator was diurnal (active during the day). Dr. Martin, on the other hand, says there is no compelling evidence from the fossil to shake the traditional belief that the common ancestor of primates, and early representatives such as members of the genus Teilhardina, were nocturnal (active at night).

"I disagree with the authors on both statistical and biological grounds," Dr. Martin says. "They excluded significant data in their analysis, and they did not adequately account for certain biological features, including the very large opening on the snout for the nerve connecting with the whiskers, which are best developed in nocturnal mammals."

Dispersal and biogeography

The earliest known undoubted primate fossils are about 55-million-years old from sites in North America, Europe – and now Asia. Scientists had previously classified six of them in the genus Teilhardina. Ni adds T. asiatica to that group, which might therefore be thought to have dispersed throughout the northern continents.

Dr. Martin agrees that the new fossil belongs to the genus Teilhardina, but he argues that only it and T. belgica, found in Europe, belong there because of their shared traits. "The remaining five species previously identified as Teilhardina must, in fact, be from a quite separate genus," he said. "And this means Teilhardina was restricted to Europe and Asia and probably did not disperse all the way to what is now North America."

Dr. Martin’s views have wider implications for biogeography, as well. Until recently, scientists believed that direct migration of primates between Asia and Europe around 55 million years ago would not have been possible due to a transcontinental marine barrier that ran from north to south down the middle of Eurasia at the time. Now, the presence of closely related Teilhardina species in China and Belgium adds to mounting evidence that primates and other mammals were able to migrate directly between Europe and Asia 55 million years ago.

In any event, Dr. Martin hails the new fossil as a very significant find. "It provides crucial new information about early primates in Asia that will help us understand the earliest beginnings of the branch that eventually led to human evolution," he said.

Field Museum | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fieldmuseum.org/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception
25.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik

nachricht Studying a catalyst for blood cancers
25.04.2017 | University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Warm winds: New insight into what weakens Antarctic ice shelves

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>