Prehistoric Fossilized Brains Turn Paleontology On Its Head

Posted: Nov 9 2015, 9:07pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News


Prehistoric Fossilized Brains Turn Paleontology on its Head
courtesy of Xiaoya Ma, London Museum of Natural History

Extinct arthropod specimens reveal that brains do fossilize

Science theorizes that brain cannot be fossilized but the latest discovery of prehistoric arthropod brains argues against it.

Researchers have recently discovered seven new fossils of shrimp-like arthropod called Fuxianhuia protensa in which they have found undoubtedly the traces of brain. This definitive evidence has shaken the well established theory on fossilized brains.

“It was questioned by many paleontologists, who thought – and in fact some claimed in print – that maybe it was just an artifact or a one-off, implausible fossilization events.” Nicolas Strausfeld, a professor at University of Arizona’s Department of Neuroscience talked about his first report on fossilized brain which was presented in 2012.

The latest report has more strong evidences and it suggests that brains really do fossilize.

The newly discovered fossilized brains are of the same species F. protensa which lived on ocean floor about 520 million years ago. They have been recovered from Chengjiang Shales, a fossil-rich site in Southwest China and their brains also look similar to modern crustacean’s too.

Strausfeld and his collaborators examined the fossilized specimens with scanning electron microscopy and found that brains were preserved in the form of flattened carbon film. It provides the convincing explanation of how and why neural tissues can fossilize.

The only way brain becomes fossilized is if firstly it is rapidly buried. Scavengers do not eat buried dead body of an animal and it also escapes being consumed by bacteria.

The second step, where most brains would fail is withstanding the pressure of burying under heavy, thick mud. It is only possible if animal had a dense nervous system. 

Researchers have found that the tissues of nervous system of F. protensa are remarkably dense, in fact, densest in all living arthropods. And its brain and nervous system had the ability to be preserved.

With the convincing evidence, Strausfeld is now able to prove that fossilized arthropod brains are more than just a one-off phenomenon. Next, he is working on to explain the origin and evolution of brains over half a billion years in the past.

“People, especially scientists, make assumptions,” said Strausfeld. “The fun thing about science, actually, is to demolish them.”



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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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