New fossil find pinpoints the origin of jaws in vertebrates

Jun 12, 2014

By Science Daily


A major fossil discovery in Canada sheds new light on the development of the earliest vertebrates, including the origin of jaws, the first time this feature has been seen so early in the fossil record.

A key piece in the puzzle of the evolution of vertebrates has been identified, after the discovery of fossilised fish specimens, dating from the Cambrian period (around 505 million years old), in the Canadian Rockies. The fish, known as Metaspriggina, shows pairs of exceptionally well-preserved arches near the front of its body. The first of these pairs, closest to the head, eventually led to the evolution of jaws in vertebrates, the first time this feature has been seen so early in the fossil record.

Fish fossils from the Cambrian period are very rare and usually poorly preserved. This new discovery shows in unprecedented detail how some of the earliest vertebrates developed — the starting point of a story which led to animals such as later fish species, but also dinosaurs and mammals such as horses and even ourselves. The findings are published in the 11 June edition of the journal Nature.

Fossils of Metaspriggina were recovered from several locations including the Burgess Shale site in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, one of the richest Cambrian fossil deposits in the world. These fossils shed new light on the Cambrian ‘explosion’, a period of rapid evolution starting around 540 million years ago, when most major animal phyla originated.

Previously, only two incomplete specimens of Metaspriggina had been identified. During expeditions conducted by the Royal Ontario Museum in 2012, 44 new Burgess Shale fossils were collected near Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, which provide the basis for this study. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto used these fossils, along with several more specimens from the eastern United States, to reclassifyMetaspriggina as one of the first vertebrates.

2 comments on “New fossil find pinpoints the origin of jaws in vertebrates

  • looks more like a pair of eyes than an early form of jaw to me.. but then again, if you have no jaw to hunt/ eat, why the need for an eye to locate the food.. or, if you aren´t being hunted by anything with a jaw, why the eye to escape from it?

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    Pinball1970 says:

    Bacteria replicate quite happily without complicated organs or organized tissues of any kind.
    The Jaws they are talking about in this case were not the first jaw because there is no such thing as a first anything like this.
    Photo sensitive materials on the outside of a creature giving it some direction of where light and therefore activity, heat, “up” is, would have a an advantage over a completely “blind” organism.
    An organism with a slightly more fibrous entrance to the gut to masticate food, may have been able to absorb food more easily, but it would nothing like a jaw with a bony interior, recognizable exterior or have teeth.
    If we look at the first flints used by Homo Habilis and look at a power drill used today (both by handy men) you will see what I am getting at.

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