New study finds 500M-year-old fossilized brain tissue


This illustration shows a 22-centimeter-long creature called Alalcomenaeus from 500-million-year-old fossils. (Images from Wikimedia Commons)

MYSTERY WIRE — The tissue that makes up the brain doesn’t last long after death. It’s not like bone tissue, which is often preserved long after life ends.

But scientists have found exceptions.

A recent study in Great Britain of 500-million-year-old fossils of a small creature called Alalcomenaeus revealed evidence of fossilized brains. The bug-like creatures are from the Cambrian period.

One scientist told Live Science:

What we are dealing with in the fossil record are exceptional circumstances. This is not common — this is super, super rare.

Javier Ortega-Hernández
Invertebrate paleobiologist at Harvard University and curator of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The existence of “inky stains” in the fossils was a hint that nervous tissue had survived the millions of years. And as scientists looked deeper, they unraveled the mystery. Biology of the Alalcomenaeus made it difficult to discern whether the stain was nervous system tissue or just remains of “gut” tissue.

More samples of Alalcomenaeus taken from a site in the Great Basin in Utah — the Pioche formation — helped to verify that it was actually nervous system tissue that had fossilized.

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