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520-Million-Year-Old Fossil Found With Detailed Nervous System

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International researchers at Yunnan University in China are studying a 520 million year-old fossil that, incredibly, shows the detailed nervous system of a ‘shrimp-like’ creature.

The crustacean known as Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis is believed to have dwelled in the sea of Southern China. The fossilized specimen is thought to be the oldest and most detailed illustration of a nervous system according to the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-author of the study, Dr Javier Ortega-Hernández of the University of Cambridge, explains that finding nerve tissue is “extremely rare” and there are “very few specimens” exhibiting “traces of brains or nerve cords”.

Nerve tissue is extremely rare, and only very few specimens show traces of brains or nerve cords

The discovery will mean that scientists are able to study the evolution of the anthropod central nervous system as C. kunmingensis is a distant ancestor of lobsters, spiders and millipedes, as reported in The GuardianOrtega-Hernández, in correspondence with The Washington Postdescribes how nerve tissue called ganglia, seen in the fossil, were each attached to the individual legs of the animal. According to Ortega-Hernández, preserved ganglia is not uncommon, however this example shows a “few dozen delicate, tiny individual nerve fibers sprouting out from the nerve cord and ganglia” which are not often found in modern anthropods. He notes that this is “a unique insight into how arthropod nervous systems evolved”,

It is a unique insight into how arthropod nervous systems evolved, and secondly it is a unique insight into the nature of fossilisation processes

Although still fitting together the evolutionary pieces of the puzzle, the team from Germany, China and the UK are excited about this find and hope that similar preserved fossils will be discovered in the future that further contribute to the science of evolution.


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