Scientists have discovered an incredibly rare fossil floating in amber 16 million years ago.
present day TardigradeAlso known as tardigrades and moss piglets, can be found in almost any environment with liquid water, from the depths of the ocean to the thin water film that covers terrestrial moss. Small creatures are famous for their survival skills. Tardigrades drain most of their water from their bodies and significantly slow down their metabolism, resulting in a state that resembles an interrupted animation that can withstand extreme temperatures, pressures, and radiation.
However, while tardigrades are nearly impossible to destroy when they are alive, few fossils of tardigrades have been found so far due to their small size and lack of hard tissue. To be exact, there are only three. Two of these fossil species found in Canada and New Jersey are officially named. The other was discovered in Western Siberia and has no name.
Related: 8 Reasons to Love Tardigrades
But now, in a new study published in the journal on Tuesday (October 5th) Bulletin of the Royal Society B: Biological Science, Scientists introduced a new species of tardigrade found in amber from the Dominican Republic. The fossils date back to the Miocene (23 to 5.3 million years ago) and are so well preserved that the team was able to place the newly discovered tardigrades. Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, In the “Tree of Life” of the tardigrade.
“There are actually only two Tajgrads apparent from fossil records,” said Frank Smith, an evolutionary developmental biologist and assistant professor at the University of North Florida. Mentioned. Florida not involved in new research. According to Smith, the quality of the fossils allowed researchers to apply the same techniques used to identify living tardigrades, and the team said that the newly discovered species was a modern tardigrade. It helped me determine how they were related.
Tardigrades are less than 0.02 inches (0.6 millimeters) long, how did researchers find them? Lead author Mark Maparo, a PhD student in the Department of Bioevolutionary Biology at Harvard University, told Live Science.
Mapalo collaborators at the New Jersey Institute of Technology first obtained amber and searched for ants captured in the material. The team led by evolutionary biologist Phillip Barden evolution Of social insects such as ants and termites.
“They had amber for months, but they were only looking at ants,” Maparo said. However, at some point, members of the sharp-eyed laboratory noticed a chunky caterpillar-like shape with legs with small claws protruding from underneath. Behold, they found a tardigrade floating on amber, alongside three ants, a beetle and a flower.
“They were luckier to see it … because it wasn’t what they were looking for,” Maparo said. Knowing about fossils, Maparo said he was “really surprised” because it was very unlikely that he would find a tardigrade fossil.As a water lover, he is a very tardigrade Once wrote a song about them, He was eager to find out one of the few known tardigrade fossils.
In addition to finding the fossils, the team was lucky that the tardigrades were sitting fairly close to the surface of the amber. In other words, the light from the microscope could easily reach the sample. Using a technique called transmitted light and confocal fluorescence microscopy, researchers have used several external anatomical structures, such as Taj-grade claws, and various rigid structures found in the foregut of living creatures. I examined both internal morphologies.
“This is the first tardigrade fossil that was able to visualize its internal morphology,” Maparo said.
Based on the shape and placement of the tardigrade claws, researchers have identified tardigrades as part of the Isohypsibioidea superfamily, a diverse group of modern tardigrades.this is P. Chrono Caribbean The oldest known member of the superfamily.
However, the aspects of the water bear’s internal structure set it apart from the associated tardigrades. In particular, the hard structure between the mouth and esophagus, called the macropracoid, has a unique shape. Other members of Isohypsibioidea have a few thick macropracoids, but the new tardigrade fossil was only one thin, marked with a ridge.
“For this reason, it does not correspond to existing genera within this superfamily,” says Maparo.And for this reason, the team created brand new genera and species to accommodate it. P. Chrono Caribbean.
In its heyday P. Chrono Caribbean According to Smith, he’s probably hanging on a moss cushion, swallowing liquid from plant cells, much like a modern tardigrade. “If we returned to this place 16 million years ago, we would probably find this species everywhere.” And, in theory, more to Dominican amber in the same area and other amber deposits around the world. He said many fossils of amber could be lurking.
Currently, few people are looking for fossils of amber tardigrades, so more scientists could find more fossils of tardigrades, Maparo said. ..
To the naked eye, “I don’t even know if it looks like dust spots, probably not at all,” Smith said. Therefore, in order to find chunky sea creatures, scientists need to carefully inspect all amber samples under a microscope. But generally speaking, “if you find amber, you probably lived near the tree that produces the amber … so it’s worth looking at a sample of the amber color of the tardigrade.” Said.
Until more tardigrade fossils are found, Maparo plans to study the genetic and molecular mechanisms that drive the growth and development of live tardigrades. He is currently visiting Smith’s lab in Florida to study how tardigrade claws develop. This series of studies could help clarify the forces driving the evolution of tardigrades, which led to the adoption of the familiar plump body plans we now know and love. increase.
In addition, Maparo wants to study the first fossil tardigrade ever discovered in Harvard.Fossil identified as a species Beorn leggiWas discovered near Cedar Lake in Manitoba in 1964 and is about 78 million years old. Late Cretaceous, The author writes in their report. However, the exact relationship between tardigrades and modern species has not yet been determined, as high-resolution imaging technology was not available at the time.
Originally published in Live Science.
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