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Is this 415 million-year-old fish our earliest known human ancestor?

By Derek Lambie
18 February 2015

Tests on tiny scull found in Siberia give breakthrough on evolution and could hint at the 'missing link' to mankind's origins.

'It's a very interesting fossil, and it's very small. It's surprising that something so tiny could have so much information in it.' Picture: Samantha Giles

A tiny 415 million-year-old fish skull found in Siberia could provide the so-called 'missing link' to the origins of human kind, scientists have claimed.

With many common characteristics to animals that live in the sea, many palaeontologists believe we began life in the water and evolved from fish.

Now the miniscule remains, just two centimetres in width and still embedded in rock, have added weight to that theory and could give clues about what our earliest ancestor looked like.

Originally uncovered in the 1970s on Putorana Plateau, the fossil was recently re-examined in the United Kingdom using state-of-the-art 3D scanning equipment.

There are two main types of living jawed vertebrates: those made of bone and those made of cartilage.

But what scientists found was that the ancient fish's brain case had the characteristics of both modern-day bony fish, such as salmon and trout, and fish made of cartilage, including sharks and manta rays.

It means the fossil is likely to be one of the common ancestors of the two groups, which split apart 420 million years ago, and could offer hints about the origins of all jawed vertebrates, including reptiles and humans.

The findings, published in the international scientific journal Nature, have been heralded by some palaeontologists as being 'truly remarkable'.

Ancient fish

Janusiscus schultzei is likely to be one of the common ancestors of the two groups, which split apart 420 million years ago, and could offer hints about the origins of all jawed vertebrates, including reptiles and humans. Picture: Samantha Giles

Samantha Giles, the lead researcher and a paleobiology doctoral candidate at Oxford University, said: 'It's a very interesting fossil, and it's very small. It's surprising that something so tiny could have so much information in it.

'There are over 60,000 species of living jawed vertebrates, and they encompass pretty much everything you can think of [with a backbone] that lives on land or in the sea. But we don't really know what they looked like when they split.'

When the small fossil was first discovered, scientists classified the specimen as a bony fish and no further examination of it was done until recently.

Ms Giles and her research team used a CT scanner to look at the skull and create a three-dimensional model by taking hundreds of images from different angles.

The detailed scans showed that the fish had sensory line canals on its skull, like those used by bony fish on the outside of their bodies to sense changes in the pressure around them and avoid predators.

But, crucially, it also shared characteristics with cartilaginous fish, with blood vessels inside the skull, above and between the jaws, to supply oxygen to its brain.

The fossil was named Janusiscus schultzei in honour Janus the Roman god of transitions who is often shown with two faces, and Hans-Peter Schultze, from the University of Kansas and who first described it in 1977.

Putorana Plateau

Putorana Plateau, where the fossil was found in 1972. Picture: Cont

Many believe humans evolved from some form of fish life, with a number of our current anatomical characteristics -- including the way embryos are formed, the existence of the philtrum groove below our noses and the way in which people hiccup - thought to stem from our time in the water.

John Long, a professor of palaeontology at Flinders University in Adelaide, described the findings at Oxford as 'truly remarkable'.

He told the Live Science website: 'I think it is a highly significant discovery, as the origin and diversification of modern bony-jawed fishes is still shrouded in mystery.

But Janusiscus takes us a big step closer to really understanding this major evolutionary transition, from primitive jawed fishes to the beginning of the modern jawed fish fauna.'

Sadly scientists were unable to find out more about the jawed fish because its jaw was actually missing from the fossil. 

Ms Giles said: 'Presumably, the jaw is in a middle of the river somewhere in Siberia.'

Comments (2)

Hope researchers will find others " missing links" to understand more. Thank
Jocelyne, FRANCE
22/02/2015 16:17
5
0
But, is there evolution if there is no time? How will evolutionary biology meet new physical paradigms about time, space and so on? Will new conceptual changes deny evolution? Or on the contrary, will it become a more extraordinary process, full of astonishing implications? If so, will past human beings and the rest of living beings become something different as science progresses? Will reveal its infinite depth? Bacause, is life something fix-finite-defined? That is, can one understand it by means of using a flesh brain and its limited words, axioms and dogmas? Does the whole of life fit inside a word, inside a bone box? Indeed, will science add indefinitely without understanding completely, is there an infinite pool of knowledge and ignorance waiting for us? Along these lines, there is a different book, a preview in http://goo.gl/8Ax6gL Just another suggestion in order to freethink for a while
edter, palama
18/02/2015 18:12
3
2
1

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