The oldest fossil vertebrate heart ever found tells the story of 380 million years old evolution

Fossils of the juju fish used in this study were discovered within the rocks found in the Kimberley. Credit: Curtin University

In the limestone ranges of Western Australia’s Kimberley region, near the town of Fitzroy Crossing, you’ll find one of the world’s best preserved ancient reef complexes.

Here lie the remains of countless prehistoric marine animals, including the echinoderm, a class of prehistoric fish that represents some of our earliest jawed ancestors.

Placoderms were the rulers of the ancient seas, rivers, and lakes. They were the most abundant and diverse fish of the Devonian period (419-359 million years ago) – but eventually became extinct in a mass extinction event.

The study of plaque skin is important because it provides insight into the origins of the body plan of jawed vertebrates (vertebrates are animals with a backbone). For example, skin cells revealed when the first jaws, teethand paired skull bones and double sides evolved. They also taught us about origins Internal fertilization and live birth in vertebrate evolution.

Now, in paper published in SciencesWe detail our findings from the oldest preserved three dimensions heart From a vertebrate – in this case a jawed vertebrate. This leather core is about 380 million years old, 250 million years older than the formerly oldest vertebrate core.

How did we do that?

Fish fossils were first reported near the Fitzroy Crossing jojo station in the forties. But that didn’t happen until the sixties beautiful 3D preservatives were detected using the technique of removing rocks from bones with weak acetic acid.

However, this technique proved to be a double-edged sword. While the finer details of the skeleton were revealed, the soft tissues of the fossils have faded away. It was not until 2000 that the first pieces of fossilized muscle in Placoderms were identified.

With the advent of an X-ray method called “synchrotron microimaging” – first used in Gogo fossils in 2010 – more muscles have been revealed from Gogo’s skin membranes, including Neck and abdominal muscles.

The oldest fossil vertebrate heart ever found tells the story of 380 million years old evolution

The 3D preserved heart of a Placoderm fish from Gogo. The boulder obscures the bones shown in gray, shown on neutron radiography, and the core in red. Credit: Kate Trinagistic

Our work used this same technique to show for the first time the presence of a liver, stomach, and intestines in a Devon fish. Some specimens even showed the remains of their last meal: crustaceans.

We found the soft organs fossilized in an arrangement of skin called Arthropods. These were the most common and varied of all known chromatic leathers, and featured a unique joint between the head shield and torso.

mucous membrane heart

The most exciting discovery for us was the heart. We found our first heart out of the skin using synchrotron visualization.

Then while experimenting with a technique called Neutron imagingwe detected a second heart within a different sample.

Life must have been nerve-wracking in the Devonian seas, because their hearts literally held theirs!

At this point in vertebrate evolution, the neck was so short that the heart was located at the back of the throat and under the gills.

Fish that are more primitive than arthropods, such as Jawless lampreyTheir heart is close to their liver. The heart’s chambers (called the atrium and ventricle) sit side by side.

On the other hand, dermatophytes had the heart in an anterior (anterior) position, at the back of the throat. And the atrium sat above the ventricle – similar to sharks and bony fish today.

The oldest fossil vertebrate heart ever found tells the story of 380 million years old evolution

Our new research reveals the soft organ anatomy of an arthropod fish from the Devonian period. Credit: Brian Cho, Kate Triangstick

Today, 99% of living vertebrates have jaws. Arthrodires provides the first anatomical evidence to support the hypothesis that repositioning of the heart to a more advanced position in jawed vertebrates is related to the development of the jaws and neck.

but that is not all. This movement of the heart would also have given way to the evolution of the lungs.

Does placodermat have lungs?

One of the most challenging evolutionary questions today is whether lungs were present in early jawed vertebrates. Although fish have gills, the presence of lungs in some fish can aid in buoyancy, which is necessary for sinking and rising in the water.

Today, lungs are found only in primitive bony fish such as lungfish and African reed fish.

More advanced bony fish (such as teleosts) stay afloat using a swim bladder, while sharks have neither lungs nor a swim bladderInstead, use a large fatty liver to aid in buoyancy.

But what about old skin? Previous studies (which were somewhat controversial) suggested that the lungs were located in a primitive skin layer called the potreolips.

Our analysis of juju arthropods reveals that the structures thought to be lungs in Putrioleps are actually livers with two lobes, so the lungs are now thought to have been missing from the plaque skin.

Our discovery therefore shows a single origin of lungs in bony fishes (osteichthyans). The movement of the heart to the anterior position of the jawless fish (Cyclostomata) would have allowed room for the lungs to develop in later subspecies.

The absence of lungs in the plaque skin indicates this fish It depends on its liver for buoyancy, as modern sharks do.

The oldest fossil vertebrate heart ever found tells the story of 380 million years old evolution

Our new findings on ancient plaque skin show the forward movement of the heart from jawless fish. Credit: Kate Triangstick, Brian Cho, John Long

important site

Preserving members is a race against time. In some cases, animal decomposition will help preserve soft tissues, but excessive decomposition and soft tissue decay. To maintain excellent balance, the balance must be absolutely correct.

In the fossilized heart, we found that the atria and ventricles are clearly visible, while the arterial cone – the part of the heart that directs blood from the ventricle to the arteries – is not well preserved.

Being able to make these discoveries before they are lost forever is critical if we are to fully understand the early evolution of vertebrates, including the origins of the human body plan.

Beyond our immediate findings, our work has reinforced the importance of the Gogo site in Kimberley as one of the most important sites in the world to carry out this work.


The 380 million-year-old heart illuminates the evolutionary history


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