World's Oldest Eye Fossil Discovered In Estonia

Posted: Dec 9 2017, 5:59am CST | by , Updated: Dec 9 2017, 6:05am CST, in News | Latest Science News

World's Oldest Eye Fossil Discovered in Estonia
Credit: Gennadi Baranov

A 530-million-year-old sea creature possibly contains the oldest ever eye

Archeologists have unearthed what they believe is the oldest known fossil of an eye. The fossil dates to 530 million years ago and has an eye shape seen in many animals today.

Analysis of the eye fossil suggests that it belonged to a group of hard-shelled, segmented sea creatures called trilobites. They are ancestors of spiders, scorpions and other crustaceans from Paleozoic era that existed between 541-251 million years ago.

The extinct sea creature contains a very early form of eye. The eye fossil is so well preserved that it retains a whole set of tiny visual cells called ommatidia. These cells look similar to those of modern bees, suggesting that eyes have changed very little over the course of 500 million years.

"This may be the earliest example of an eye that it is possible to find. Older specimens in sediment layers below this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to be fossilized and have disintegrated over time." Professor Brigitte Schoenemann from University of Cologne said.

The fossil was discovered in northern Estonia. Researchers report that it was in very good condition, so studying it was not difficult. When researchers compared the eye structure and function of ancient sea creature with that of modern day animals, they found its vision was relatively poorer than that of other animals. However, it could identify predators and obstacles in its path.

Most modern day creatures use lenses to view things, but the fossil's eye does not have a lens. This is likely because the species lacked parts of the shell that are needed to form lens. Its eye consists of approximately 100 ommatidia, which are placed relatively far apart from each other.

With the finding of the fossil, more details about the evolutionary history of eyes in animals are emerging.

Professor Euan Clarkson from University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences says. "This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago. Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed in half a billion years."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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