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Sinking teeth into the evolutionary origin of our skeleton

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Posted October 17, 2013
Did our skeletons evolve for protection or for violence? The earliest vestiges of our skeleton are encountered in 500 million-year-old fossil fishes, some of which were armor-plated filter feeders, while others were naked predators with a face full of gruesome, vicious teeth.

 
Sinking teeth into the evolutionary origin of our skeleton
A comparison between the growth of the ‘teeth’ of the paraconodont Furnishina (left) and the euconodont Proconodontus (right). They have been subdivided into a number of discrete growth stages, revealing a common mode of growth between these groups. Euconodonts evolved from paraconodonts through the origin of an enamel-like crown (red, transparent). Credit: DJE Murdock
 

For decades, it was thought that our skeleton and all its characteristic bony tissues originated in the predators, known as ‘conodonts’. However new research, led by the University of Bristol and published today in Nature, shows that they were evolutionary copy-cats who evolved tooth-like structures and tissues independently of other vertebrates. The origin of our skeleton is to be found in the armour of our mud-slurping ancestors who evolved bony armour to protect themselves from such predators.

Palaeontologists from Bristol, Peking University and the US Geological Survey collaborated with physicists from Switzerland to study the tooth-like skeleton of conodonts using high energy X-rays at the Swiss Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland. They showed that the tooth-like structures found in the mouths of conodonts evolved within their own evolutionary lineage, rather than in an ancestor shared with other vertebrates.

Read more at: Phys.org

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