Using a combination of traditional and innovative model-building techniques, scientists in the U.S. and a specialist in Denmark have created a lifelike reconstruction of an ancient mollusk, offering a vivid portrait of a creature that lived about 390 million years ago, and answering questions about its place in the tree of life, as described in the Sept. 18 edition of the journal Palaeontology.
The model of the oval-shaped sea creature, called a multiplacophoran, which was covered with stiff plates and a ring of spines, resulted from a collaboration between Jakob Vinther, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, and Esben Horn, owner of the model making company 10 Tons in Copenhagen, with animation help from Ryan Carney, a doctoral student at Brown University.
Working with a delicate specimen of a multiplacophoran partially covered by rock, Vinther used a micro CT scan a noninvasive technology similar to medical CAT scanning to create a three-dimensional view of the fossil. With Carney's help, the CT scan yielded an animated view of the original placement of the creature's dense spines and shells, which had splayed out and decayed prior to fossilization.
The CT scan also produced a three-dimensional cast of the specimen in its reconstructed shape. Working with the cast, the animation and information on living relatives of the multiplacophorans, Horn was able to create a multicolored, textured model in clay, resin and silicone showing how the creature looked millions of years ago, when it crawled on a single, suction-like foot over shells and rocky surfaces in ancient oceans.
The model helps address a debate about how multiplacophorans (which were only discovered in the past decade) relate to chitons, another more widely known plated mollusk that lives on seashores and is commonly eaten in the Caribbean. By dating
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University of Texas at Austin