News / Science & Technology

Scientists Discover Ancient Shrimp Had Heart

The entire cardiovascular system in the Fuxianhuia protensa fossil. (Credit: Xiaoya Ma)
The entire cardiovascular system in the Fuxianhuia protensa fossil. (Credit: Xiaoya Ma)
Rosanne Skirble
Scientists have discovered the world's earliest known cardiovascular system - heart and blood vessels - in the fossil of a shrimp-like creature from more than 500 million years ago. The rare find sheds new light on the evolutionary timeline of life on Earth.

The Yunnan Province in southwestern China is known for rich fossil deposits, but researchers had not expected a fossil so exquisitely preserved as the specimen of the 520-million-year-old shrimp-like species.

Researcher Peiyun Cong with the Yunnan Laboratory for Paleobiology unearthed the fossil, which gave researchers the first detailed image of the creature's circulatory system.

“[The fossil] is a beautiful carbon trace," said University of Arizona neuroscientist and team member Nicholas Strausfeld. "It is bilaterally symmetrical. It shows the dorsal blood vessel and the lateral vascular components, the arteries, the lateral arteries and then a very, very, beautiful, system of arteries over where the brain sits in the head.”
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In earlier research with fossils of the same species, the scientists on this project had identified its brain, gut and nervous system.

Strausfeld says it is common to see fossils with imprints of teeth, shell and bone, but no soft tissues because they decay first when a creature dies. He explains how the internal organs may have fossilized.

“We assume that the specimens became entombed by a very sudden event - a sudden burial, maybe an underwater landslide, maybe something to do with a tsunami, who knows, maybe a very, very heavy dust fall out from a storm," he said. "And, then this chemical preservation of the internal tissue as it was squashed flat.”  
The dorsal view of the 7-centimeter long fossil was found in sediments dating back 520 million years ago in what today is China’s Yunnan province. (Credit: Xiaoya Ma)The dorsal view of the 7-centimeter long fossil was found in sediments dating back 520 million years ago in what today is China’s Yunnan province. (Credit: Xiaoya Ma)
This ancient marine species dates from the Cambrian period, a time in Earth’s history when major animal groups began to appear with a huge variety of shapes and forms. Strausfeld says the organ systems detailed in this study are easily recognizable in today's crustaceans.

“It suggests that already 520 million years ago, the basic layout, what we call the ground pattern, of say a vascular system, had already evolved," he said. "And the ground pattern persists until this day in modified forms.”

If we see this ancient shrimp as modern, then, Strausfeld asks, who was the ancestor that gave rise to its sophisticated and very elaborate set of organs?

“This is not going to be easy [to answer] because we do not really have access to any older deposits," Strausfeld said. "So what we hope to find in these Chengjiang deposits in China are fossils of organisms that clearly were already ancient by that time, and that might give us a lead into how these more elaborate systems, these very recognizable elaborate systems, how these systems maybe originated.”

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Comment Sorting
by: Babu G. Ranganathan from: Boyertown, PA (USA)
April 09, 2014 9:18 AM
NOT MADE BY NATURE! Just because something exists in nature doesn't mean it was invented or made by Nature. If all the chemicals necessary to make a cell were left to themselves, "Mother Nature" would have no ability to organize them into a cell. It requires an already existing cell to bring about another cell. The cell exists and reproduces in nature but Nature didn't invent or design it! Nature didn't originate the cell or any form of life. An intelligent power outside of nature had to be responsible.

Natural laws can explain how an airplane or living cell works, but it's irrational to believe that mere undirected natural laws can bring about the origin of an airplane or a cell. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic program and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could the cell have originated naturally when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? All of the founders of modern science believed in God. Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

Only evolution within "kinds" is genetically possible (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.), but not evolution across "kinds" (i.e. from sea sponge to human). How did species survive if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems were still evolving? Survival of the fittest would actually have prevented evolution across kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition). I discuss: Punctuated Equilibria, "Junk DNA," genetics, mutations, natural selection, fossils, genetic and biological similarities between species.

Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural selection. Only limited evolution, variations of already existing genes and traits are possible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

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