Ancient mollusc missing link revealed in 3-D

Oct 03, 2012
Scientists have discovered a rare fossil called Kulindroplax, the missing link between two mollusc groups, which is revealed in a 3D computer model, in research published today in the journal Nature. Credit: Imperial College London

Scientists have discovered a rare fossil called Kulindroplax, the missing link between two mollusc groups, which is revealed in a 3D computer model, in research published today in the journal Nature.

The researchers have unearthed the worm-like partly shelled Kulindroplax, which they have modelled in a 3D computer animation. Kulindroplax lived in the sea during the Silurian Period, approximately 425 million years ago, when most life lived in the oceans and the first plants were beginning to grow on land. The team found the Kulindroplax fossil, the only one of its kind in the world, in the Welsh borderland, and it is providing the evolutionary missing link between two groups of molluscs and shedding more light on the their early origins.

The study was led by Dr Mark Sutton, from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, in conjunction with researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Leicester, Yale and Queen's University Belfast.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Scientists have discovered a rare fossil called Kulindroplax, the missing link between two mollusc groups, which is revealed in a 3D computer model, in research published today in the journalNature. Credit: Imperial College London

Dr Sutton says: "Most people don't realise that molluscs, which have been around for hundreds of millions of years, are an extremely rich and diverse branch of . Just as tracing a long lost uncle is important for developing a more complete family tree, unearthing this extremely rare and ancient Kulindroplax fossil is helping us to understand the relationship between two mollusc groups, which is also helping us to understand how molluscs have evolved on Earth."

For over 20 years, scientists have debated the between two groups of molluscs called the aplacophorans, which are carnivorous, worm-like, sea-living creatures, and the chitons, which are molluscs that have shell plates for armour and live in the sea or on the – both still live in Earth's oceans today.

The researchers in today's study analysed the 3D model of Kulindroplax and discovered that it had the worm-like body of the aplacophorans, but was partly shelled like the chitons. The combination of features in Kulindroplax confirmed to the team that that aplacophorans and chitons are closely related. Furthermore, the researchers believe that their 3D fossil is the missing link that shows how the worm-like aplacophorans evolved from chiton-like ancestors by losing their shells, providing fresh insight into the mollusc evolutionary tree.

The researchers discovered the Kulindroplax fossil, which is the size of a small caterpillar, in a deposit called the Herefordshire Lagerstätte. This deposit was formed when a cloud of volcanic ash settled through the Siluian seas and entombed a range of species, including Kulindroplax, as almost perfectly preserved fossils.

In order to develop their 3D animation, the team cut the Kulindroplax into 1300 slices, taking digital images of each one, which were fed into a computer. The in the study say this method provides unprecedented detail from the fossils, enabling them to analyse features that have been previously unseen.

Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

More information: "A Silurian armoured aplacophoran and implications for molluscan phylogeny" Nature, 2012. DOI: 10.1038/nature11328

Related Stories

Ancient harvestmen revealed in 3-D models

Aug 23, 2011

Two ancient types of harvestmen, or 'daddy long legs,' which skittered around forests more than 300 million years ago, are revealed in new three-dimensional virtual fossil models published today in the journal ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Apr 19, 2014

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Scottingham
5 / 5 (3) Oct 03, 2012
These mollusks are cool and all, but my favorite is the brain mollusk AKA the octopus!
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Oct 04, 2012
Agreed!

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.