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Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates
Date:8/15/2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga's sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it's a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said.

"If you take all the primates that are alive today, they're all going to have characteristics that look the same, but unlike people, many of them live in trees," said co-author Jonathan Bloch, an associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "By finding parts of the skeleton of this primitive primate, we are able to test whether nails were present in the common ancestor of the group that includes lemurs, monkeys, and humans it's direct evidence as opposed to speculation."

Appearing in the current online edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study provides a better understanding of the evolutionary relationships of one of the oldest known modern primates, as well as the time frame and environmental conditions that allowed for the development of nails on all fing
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Contact: Jon Bloch
jbloch@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-273-1938
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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