Navigation Links
New home for an 'evolutionary misfit'
Date:8/17/2014

One of the most bizarre-looking fossils ever found - a worm-like creature with legs, spikes and a head difficult to distinguish from its tail has found its place in the evolutionary Tree of Life, definitively linking it with a group of modern animals for the first time.

The animal, known as Hallucigenia due to its otherworldly appearance, had been considered an 'evolutionary misfit' as it was not clear how it related to modern animal groups. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered an important link with modern velvet worms, also known as onychophorans, a relatively small group of worm-like animals that live in tropical forests. The results are published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.

The affinity of Hallucigenia and other contemporary 'legged worms', collectively known as lobopodians, has been very controversial, as a lack of clear characteristics linking them to each other or to modern animals has made it difficult to determine their evolutionary home.

What is more, early interpretations of Hallucigenia, which was first identified in the 1970s, placed it both backwards and upside-down. The spines along the creature's back were originally thought to be legs, its legs were thought to be tentacles along its back, and its head was mistaken for its tail.

Hallucigenia lived approximately 505 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolution when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record. These particular fossils come from the Burgess Shale in Canada's Rocky Mountains, one of the richest Cambrian fossil deposits in the world.

Looking like something from science fiction, Hallucigenia had a row of rigid spines along its back, and seven or eight pairs of legs ending in claws. The animals were between five and 35 millimetres in length, and lived on the floor of the Cambrian oceans.

A new study of the creature's claws revealed an organisation very close to those of modern velvet worms, where layers of cuticle (a hard substance similar to fingernails) are stacked one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. The same nesting structure can also be seen in the jaws of velvet worms, which are no more than legs modified for chewing.

"It's often thought that modern animal groups arose fully formed during the Cambrian Explosion," said Dr Martin Smith of the University's Department of Earth Sciences, the paper's lead author. "But evolution is a gradual process: today's complex anatomies emerged step by step, one feature at a time. By deciphering 'in-between' fossils like Hallucigenia, we can determine how different animal groups built up their modern body plans."

While Hallucigenia had been suspected to be an ancestor of velvet worms, definitive characteristics linking them together had been hard to come by, and their claws had never been studied in detail. Through analysing both the prehistoric and living creatures, the researchers found that claws were the connection joining them together. Cambrian fossils continue to produce new information on origins of complex animals, and the use of high-end imaging techniques and data on living organisms further allows researchers to untangle the enigmatic evolution of earliest creatures.

"An exciting outcome of this study is that it turns our current understanding of the evolutionary tree of arthropods the group including spiders, insects and crustaceans upside down," said Dr Javier Ortega-Hernandez, the paper's co-author. "Most gene-based studies suggest that arthropods and velvet worms are closely related to each other; however, our results indicate that arthropods are actually closer to water bears, or tardigrades, a group of hardy microscopic animals best known for being able to survive the vacuum of space and sub-zero temperatures leaving velvet worms as distant cousins."

"The peculiar claws of Hallucigenia are a smoking gun that solve a long and heated debate in evolutionary biology, and may even help to decipher other problematic Cambrian critters," said Dr Smith.


'/>"/>
Contact: Craig Brierley
craig.brierley@admin.cam.ac.uk
44-122-376-6205
University of Cambridge
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Leading evolutionary scientist to discuss how genome of bacteria has evolved
2. An evolutionary surprise
3. A University of Tennessee professors hypothesis may be game changer for evolutionary theory
4. Scientists trace evolutionary history of what mammals eat
5. Battle of the sexes offers evolutionary insights
6. Revolutionary project will obtain entire genome sequences in fight against Alzheimers
7. Sandia seeks commercial partners for revolutionary SpinDx medical diagnostic tool
8. Tamarisk biocontrol efforts get evolutionary boost
9. Researchers dig through the gene bank to uncover the roots of the evolutionary tree
10. WHOI scientists/engineers partner with companies to market revolutionary new instruments
11. Drivers of marine biodiversity: Tiny, freeloading clams find the key to evolutionary success
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
New home for an 'evolutionary misfit'
(Date:3/28/2017)... , March 28, 2017 The ... Hardware (Camera, Monitors, Servers, Storage Devices), Software (Video Analytics, ... Region - Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, ... 2016 and is projected to reach USD 75.64 Billion ... and 2022. The base year considered for the study ...
(Date:3/24/2017)... 24, 2017 The Controller General of Immigration from ... Abdulla Algeen have received the prestigious international IAIR Award for the ... Continue Reading ... ... Controller Abdulla Algeen (small picture on the right) have received the IAIR ...
(Date:3/23/2017)... The report "Gesture Recognition and Touchless Sensing Market by Technology (Touch-based ... to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to be worth USD ... 2022. Continue Reading ... ... ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/11/2017)... and LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. , Oct. ... Cancer Research, London (ICR) and University ... SKY92, SkylineDx,s prognostic tool to risk-stratify patients with multiple myeloma ... MUK nine . The University of Leeds ... partly funded by Myeloma UK, and ICR will perform the ...
(Date:10/10/2017)... ... 2017 , ... San Diego-based team building and cooking events company, Lajollacooks4u, has ... The bold new look is part of a transformation to increase awareness, appeal to ... period. , It will also expand its service offering from its signature gourmet cooking ...
(Date:10/10/2017)... 10, 2017 International research firm Parks Associates announced ... at the TMA 2017 Annual Meeting , October 11 in ... residential home security market and how smart safety and security products impact ... Parks Associates: Smart Home ... "The residential security market has ...
(Date:10/9/2017)... DIEGO , Oct. 9, 2017  BioTech ... biological mechanism by which its ProCell stem cell ... critical limb ischemia.  The Company, demonstrated that treatment ... amount of limbs saved as compared to standard ... the molecule HGF resulted in reduction of therapeutic ...
Breaking Biology Technology: