Navigation Links
Novel studies of decomposition shed new light on our earliest fossil ancestry
Date:1/31/2010

Decaying corpses are usually the domain of forensic scientists, but palaeontologists have discovered that studying rotting fish sheds new light on our earliest ancestry.

The researchers, from the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester, devised a new method for extracting information from 500 million year old fossils -they studied the way fish decompose to gain a clearer picture of how our ancient fish-like ancestors would have looked. Their results indicate that some of the earliest fossils from our part of the tree of life may have been more complex than has previously been thought.

Their findings have been published today, Sunday Jan 31, ahead of print in Advance Online Publication (AOP) of the science journal Nature on www.nature.com The work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Rob Sansom, lead author of the paper explains: "Interpreting fossils is in some ways similar to forensic analysis we gather all the available clues to put together a scientific reconstruction of something that happened in the past. Unlike forensics, however, we are dealing with life from millions of years ago, and we are less interested in understanding the cause or the time of death. What we want to get at is what an animal was like before it died and, as with forensic analysis, knowing how the decomposition that took place after death altered the body provides important clues to its original anatomy."

This is something that palaeontologists sometimes overlook, according to Sansom, "probably because spending hundreds of hours studying the stinking carcasses of rotting fish is not something that appeals to everyone." But the rewards are worth the discomfort.

Fish-like fossils from half a billion years ago are recognised as being part of our evolutionary history because they possess characteristic anatomical features, such as a tail, eyes and the precursor of a backbone. Sansom continues: "It seems contradictory, but decomposition is an important part of the process by which animals become preserved and fossilized, so by knowing how these important anatomical features change as they rot, we are better able to correctly interpret the most ancient fossils representing the lowest branches of our part of the evolutionary tree."

"These fossils provide our only direct record of when and how our earliest vertebrate ancestors evolved" adds Dr Mark Purnell, one of the leaders of the study. "Did they appear suddenly, in an evolutionary explosion of complexity, or gradually over millions of years? What did they look like? in what ways did they differ from their worm-like relatives and how did this set the stage for later evolutionary events? Answers to these fundamental questions - the how, when and why of our own origins - remain elusive because reading the earliest vertebrate fossil record is difficult."

The scarcity of branches in this part of the evolutionary tree could reflect rapid, explosive evolution or the simple fact that, because they lacked bones or teeth, the earliest vertebrates left few fossils.

This is the area in which Dr Sarah Gabbott, who with Purnell conceived the Leicester study, is an expert: "Only in the most exceptional circumstances do soft-tissues, such as eyes, muscles and guts, become fossilized, yet it is precisely such remains that we rely on for understanding our earliest evolutionary relatives: half-a-billion years ago it's pretty much all our ancestors had."

The results published today in Nature, show that some of the characteristic anatomical features of early vertebrate fossils have been badly affected by decomposition, and in some cases may have rotted away completely. Knowing how decomposition affected the fossils means our reconstructions of our earliest ancestors will be more scientifically accurate.


'/>"/>

Contact: Dr Mark Purnell
mark.purnell@le.ac.uk
44-011-625-23645
University of Leicester
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Linheng Li proposes novel theory for mammalian stem cell regulation
2. GE Healthcare to evaluate and develop novel imaging technology
3. Novel nanotechnology heals abscesses caused by resistant staph bacteria
4. H1N1 influenza adopted novel strategy to move from birds to humans
5. Lupus Research Institute announces 2009 novel research grants
6. Novel NIST connector uses magnets for leak-free microfluidic devices
7. UD start-up company prepares to commercialize novel detector for medical, military applications
8. TAXIS Pharmaceuticals licenses novel antimicrobial technology from Rutgers and UMDNJ
9. Novel on-off switch mechanism stops cancer in its tracks
10. University of Miami receives NIH grant to support novel technology for tissue engineering
11. Novel bacterial strains clear algal toxins from drinking water
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Novel studies of decomposition shed new light on our earliest fossil ancestry
(Date:3/22/2016)... , PROVO and ... Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO), which operates the highest sample ... molecular testing, and Tute Genomics and UNIConnect, leaders in ... respectively, today announced the launch of a project to ... (NGS) testing panel. NSO has been ...
(Date:3/15/2016)... Yissum Research Development Company of the ... the Hebrew University, announced today the formation of ... various human biological indicators. Neteera Technologies has completed its ... investors. ... electromagnetic emissions from sweat ducts, enables reliable and speedy ...
(Date:3/10/2016)... 2016 --> ... "Identity and Access Management Market by Component (Provisioning, Directory ... by Organization Size, by Deployment, by Vertical, and by ... The market is estimated to grow from USD 7.20 ... at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.2% ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/23/2016)... ... ... The need for blood donations in South Texas and across the nation is growing. , ... Center, blood donations are on the decline. In fact, donations across the country are at ... South Texas in the last four years alone. , There is no substitute for blood. ...
(Date:5/23/2016)... -- Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc. (NYSE and SIX: ZBH), a ... of Directors has approved the payment of a quarterly cash ... The cash dividend of $0.24 per share will ... of record as of the close of business on June ... of the Board of Directors and may be adjusted as ...
(Date:5/23/2016)... 23, 2016 - Leading CRO,s Use of ... - Frontage Implement a Single Platform to Manage End-to-end Operations Across ... the Bioanalytical lab Frontage Laboratories, a full-service contract research ... and China , has selected IDBS, ... addition to serving as the global electronic lab notebook (ELN), the ...
(Date:5/23/2016)... ... May 23, 2016 , ... ... focused on molecular nanotechnology, announced the winners for the 2015 Foresight Institute Feynman ... Feynman, are given in two categories, one for experiment and the other for ...
Breaking Biology Technology: