Scientists Discover Fossilized Brain of 500-Million-Year-Old Worm

by Craig Garrett
Trilobite fossil - stock photo

Scientists discovered a 500-million-year-old worm brain, which is the first three-dimensional fossilized nervous system of this scalidophoran. With this discovery, scientists hope to make advancements in the fossil record and our understanding of how animals evolved, Newsweek reports.

The new study was published in the Royal Society of Open Science. It reveals the internal structure of a 500-million-year-old worm fossilized embryo known as Markuelia humanensis. The extinct critter lived on Earth around 500 million years ago. This is when plants first began to grow on land. The Loricifera, the mud dragons, and lovingly named penis worms are their closest living relatives. They are all members of the scalidophoran group.

Philip Donoghue, one of the study’s authors, recently opened up about the worm brain fossil. “It was a bit of a mystery what they were until we did some work about 10 years ago. [It] showed that they belonged to the scalidophoran group,” Donoghue explained. Soft tissues, especially delicate ones such as the nervous system, are rarely found in fossil remains. “Prior to maybe five or six years ago it was simply non-existent,” Donoghue said. “Usually it’s all in the form of completely flattened fossils.”

Why this fossilized worm is such a historic find

However, the fossils studied here were found to have been preserved in three dimensions with great detail. “It’s preserved in a fundamentally different way,” Donoghue explained. “Basically, as the fossil begins to decay, the microbes that are consuming it actually lithify themselves and turn the thing into rock. So, it turns into a piece of rock before the sediment [turns into stone], and that protects it from being collapsed into two dimensions.”

According to experts, North America is in the “Goldilocks zone” for dinosaur fossils from the Late Cretaceous period. The Cretaceous period is an era lasting approximately 80 million years. It starts at the Dinosaur Revolution until their sudden and cataclysmic extinction. The last 10 million years America saw some of the most well-known dinosaurs roam the Earth. Even famous dinosaurs that are familiar to people like Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Triceratops horridus.

Many dinosaur fossils are found across Africa. That continent has provided experts with some of the most amazing discoveries about these ancient creatures yet. According to a study published recently on fossil preservation, fossils found in North America’s Western Interior Basin show an “exceptional peak” in dinosaur species diversification toward the end of the Cretaceous period. This is particularly true in North America’s Northern and Central areas.

There was a discovery of enormous footprints as a result of the drying up of a river in Texas this year. This is just one example of recently-found rock revealing dinosaur activity. The waterway shrank in size, showing previously unknown dinosaur footmarks that were hidden below the surface.