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319 myo exceptionally preserved brain found in prehistoric fish fossil

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  • 319 myo exceptionally preserved brain found in prehistoric fish fossil

    The results of a micro-CT scan of the skull of a 319 myo fossilized fish unearthed in Carboniferous strata in the Mountain Fourfoot coal mine in Lancashire, England over a century ago, and first described in 1925, conducted as part of a broader project, surprised the researcher conducting as it as it showed a distinct, 3-dimensional object within the skull that possessed a number of features associated with vertebrate brains such as being bilaterally symmetrical, contained hollow spaces similar in appearance to ventricles, and had extending filaments that resembled cranial nerves.

    Given the age of the specimen this meant they had discovered the oldest example of a well-preserved vertebrate brain.

    The researchers think that when the fish, known as Coccocephalus wildi, died, the soft tissues of its brain and cranial nerves were replaced during the fossilization process with a dense mineral, possibly pyrite, that replaced tissue that had likely been preserved for longer in a low-oxygen environment, thereby preserving it in exquisite 3-dimensional detail.

    Since this was the only known example of this creature scientists would not risk more invasive methods of investigation.

    The brain and its cranial nerves are about 1" long and belong to an extinct fish roughly the size of an average modern bluegill (between 6-8" or 15.25-20.3cm), that was prehistoric ray-finned fish that swam in an estuary and likely preyed upon aquatic insects, small crustaceans, and cephalopods, chasing them with fins supported by bony rods called rays. Today, the ray-finned fish subclass Actinopterygii, make up over half of all living backboned animals, including approximately 96% of all fish.

    IOW, at the very least, this discovery opens up a window into the neural anatomy and early evolution of this major group of fish.

    Source: A 319-million-year-old brain has been discovered. It could be the oldest of its kind

    230202100104-03-oldest-preserved-brain.jpg
    An artist's interpretation of the 319-million-year-old, extinct, ray-finned Coccocephalus wildi,
    which is thought to have been 6 to 8 inches long and a carnivore




    A scan of the skull of a 319-million-year-old fossilized fish has led to the discovery of the oldest example of a well-preserved vertebrate brain, shining a new light on the early evolution of bony fish.

    The fossil of the skull belonging to the extinct Coccocephalus wildi was found in a coal mine in England more than a century ago, according to researchers of the study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

    The fossil is the only known specimen of the fish species so scientists from the University of Michigan in the US and the University of Birmingham in the UK used the nondestructive imaging technique of computed tomography (CT) scanning to look inside its skull and examine its internal bodily structure.

    Upon doing so, came a surprise. The CT image showed an “unidentified blob,” a University of Michigan press release said.

    The distinct, 3D object had a clearly defined structure with features found in vertebrate brains: It was bilaterally symmetrical, contained hollow spaces similar in appearance to ventricles and had extending filaments that resembled cranial nerves.

    “This is such an exciting and unanticipated find,” study coauthor Sam Giles, a vertebrate paleontologist and senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham, told CNN Thursday, adding that they had “no idea” there was a brain inside when they decided to study the skull.

    “It was so unexpected that it took us a while to be certain that it actually was a brain. Aside from being just a preservational curiosity, the anatomy of the brain in this fossil has big implications for our understanding of brain evolution in fishes,” she added.

    Fills ‘important gaps’ in knowledge

    C. wildi was an early ray-finned fish – possessing a backbone and fins supported by bony rods called “rays” – that is thought to have been 6 to 8 inches long, swum in an estuary, and ate small aquatic animals and aquatic insects, according to the researchers.

    The brains of living ray-finned fish display structural features not seen in other vertebrates, most notably a forebrain consisting of neural tissue that folds outward, according to the study. In other vertebrates, this neural tissue folds inward.

    C. wildi lacks this hallmark feature of ray-finned fish, with the configuration of a part of its forebrain called the “telencephalon” more closely resembling that of other vertebrates, such as amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals, according to the study authors.
    The brain structure of C. wildi's forebrain more closely resembles that of other
    vertebrates, rather than that of other ray-finned fish, said the study authors.

    “This indicates that the telencephalon configuration seen in living ray-finned fishes must have emerged much later than previously thought,” lead study author Rodrigo Tinoco Figueroa, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology, said.

    He added that “our knowledge on the evolution of the vertebrate brain is mostly restricted to what we know from living species,” but “this fossil helps us fill important gaps in the knowledge, that could only be obtained from exceptional fossils like this.”

    Brain preservation

    Unlike hard bones and teeth, scientists rarely find brain tissue – which is soft – preserved in vertebrate fossils, according to the researchers.

    However, the study noted that C. wildi’s brain was “exceptionally” well preserved. While there are invertebrate brains up to 500 million years old that have been found, they are all flattened, said Giles, who added that this vertebrate brain is “the oldest three-dimensional fossil brain of anything we know.”

    The skull was found in layers of soapstone. Low oxygen concentration, rapid burial by fine-grained sediment, and a very compact and protective braincase played key roles in preserving the brain of the fish, according to Figueroa.

    The braincase created a chemical micro-environment around the enclosed brain that could have helped to replace its soft tissue with dense mineral that maintained the fine details of the brain’s 3D structures.

    Giles said: “The next steps are to figure out exactly how such delicate features as the brain can be preserved for hundreds of millions of years, and look for more fossils that also preserve the brain.”


    Source

    © Copyright Original Source



    The full paper, Exceptional fossil preservation and evolution of the ray-finned fish brain, is available by clicking the hyperlink, although I've posted the abstract from it below

    Abstract

    Brain anatomy provides key evidence for the relationships between ray-finned fishes1, but two major limitations obscure our understanding of neuroanatomical evolution in this major vertebrate group. First, the deepest branching living lineages are separated from the group’s common ancestor by hundreds of millions of years, with indications that aspects of their brain morphology—like other aspects of their anatomy2,3—are specialized relative to primitive conditions. Second, there are no direct constraints on brain morphology in the earliest ray-finned fishes beyond the coarse picture provided by cranial endocasts: natural or virtual infillings of void spaces within the skull4,5,6,7,8. Here we report brain and cranial nerve soft-tissue preservation in Coccocephalus wildi, an approximately 319-million-year-old ray-finned fish. This example of a well-preserved vertebrate brain provides a window into neural anatomy deep within ray-finned fish phylogeny. Coccocephalus indicates a more complicated pattern of brain evolution than suggested by living species alone, highlighting cladistian apomorphies1 and providing temporal constraints on the origin of traits uniting all extant ray-finned fishes1,9. Our findings, along with a growing set of studies in other animal groups10,11,12, point to the importance of ancient soft tissue preservation in understanding the deep evolutionary assembly of major anatomical systems outside of the narrow subset of skeletal tissues13,14,15.


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