Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'Remarkable' story behind unlikely discovery of oldest brain

The oldest known fossilized brain was found in the skull of a 300-million-year-old fish (Sibyrhynchus denisoni) recently. (Science Friday) It was a fish fossil originally discovered in Kansas (that was covered by an ancient ocean), but the brain discovery was made (by accident) in Paris by a grad student at the national museum of natural history.

The student (Alan Pradel) was studying routine CT scans of the old fish skull, when he noticed a "very odd looking blob." As it turns out, Pradel was looking at the oldest fossilized brain ever discovered. This is a very unlikely find. "Brain tissue is mostly water, so to preserve anything is a pretty remarkable situation."

After studying the brain, researchers found "the overall structure is remarkably similar to a modern shark." The brain has large optic lobes, and the skull had large orbits for eyes. "vision was an important aspect to this animals way of life… to get its prey, to see where it was going… perhaps it was even nocturnal."

Another interesting aspect of this find, we may be looking at a bigger fish's lunch. The fossil is "preserved in little round phosphate nodules," said a researcher. "And one possibility is that these nodules came from the intestines of something bigger."

(Image from American Museum of Natural History
press release)

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.