A team of researchers has discovered what they believe to be a 500 million year old brain fossil.
According to the paleontologists who made the discovery, the fossils could help them better understand the origins of Arthropods. The experts believe the brain fossils are the oldest ever discovered.
The scientists analyzed two types of arthropod ancestors dating back to the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale discovered in Canada.
The fossils were kept at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
The arthropods are trilobites with soft bodies; one of them is called Helmetia expansa, while the other is known as Odaria alata. The second one was a strange-looking creature that resembled a submarine.
After analyzing the fossils, the researchers found that the creatures had a hard plate known as the anterior sclerite. The creatures had features that resembled eyes in front of their bodies, which were connected via nerve traces.
These nerve traces were coming from the front side of the creatures’ brain.
According to the researchers who studied the 500 million year old brain fossils, the oval structures that were associated with the nerves were linked with the anterior part of the brain.
Javier Ortega-Hernández, an expert in paleobiology from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and one of the lead researchers involved in the study, explained that the scientists were puzzled as from where did the anterior sclerite originate from.
After detailed analysis, the researchers discovered that the sclerite came from the forebrain, which is the anterior part of the brain.
Professor Hernandez explained that the anterior sclerite is missing in modern arthropods. This is probably because it got fused with other parts of the animal’s head during the evolution of this particular group of creatures.
He believes that the prehistoric creatures used their brain to process information in a similar way modern arthropods do: they used it to interact with their environment, to detect food and to escape from predators.
According to the paleontologists, the fossils reveal that there was a very important transition from soft-bodied prehistoric creatures, that resembled worms, to the arthropods that have hard exoskeletons as well as jointed limbs.
The researchers believe that the transformation was crucial for the evolutionary history of modern animals.
They added that arthropods are very diverse nowadays and it’s very relevant to know how they originated in order to explain the evolution of more complex animals.
The scientists detailed their findings in the journal Current Biology.
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