Scientists discovered the fossilized brain of a vertebrate in a 319-million-year-old fossil.
The rare find offers new insights into the evolution of extinct bony fish related to salmon.
The researchers used imaging technology to peer inside the skull of the fossil.
A 319-million-year-old fossilized fish, which revealed the “oldest example of a well-preserved vertebrate brain,” offers new insights into the evolution of early bony fish, researchers found in a new study published in Nature on Wednesday.
The ancient fish, a distant relative of salmon and goldfish, was discovered in a coal mine in England more than a century ago and recently re-examined.
A scan of the skull of a fish, called Coccocephalus wildi (C. wildi), “opens a window into the neural anatomy and early evolution of the main group of fish alive today,” according to the study authors from the University of Michigan. . and the University of Birmingham in England.
While the small fossil fish may appear “superficially unimpressive,” it shows that “much of what we thought about the evolution of the brain in living species will just need to be reworked,” said Rodrigo Figueroa, one of the study’s lead authors.
Scientists rarely discover fossilized soft tissue, unlike bones, shells or teeth, which is why this “exceptionally” well-preserved brain of the vertebrate animal offers a new perspective on other ray-finned fish still swimming today.
The finding suggests a more complex pattern of brain evolution, allowing the researchers to better define “how and when today’s bony fish evolved.”
The fossil is unique, so the scientists used “non-destructive” imaging technology to “peer inside the skull of the ray-finned fish,” which likely ate crustaceans, aquatic insects and cephalopods.
The C. wildi scan image first appeared as an “unidentified blob,” and the researchers were surprised to discover that it was a preserved brain. “It was so unexpected that it took us a while to be sure it was actually a brain,” Sam Giles, a vertebrate paleontologist and principal investigator at the University of Birmingham, told CNN.
Researchers believe the extinct ray-finned fish would have been between six and eight inches long, with its brain and associated nerves measuring about an inch long. When the fish died millions of years ago, the soft tissues were quickly replaced by a dense mineral that allowed the brain to be preserved in a detailed three-dimensional structure, according to the study.
The ancient fish is on loan to scientists from the Manchester Museum in England.
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