Modern Hearts Discovered In Ancient Shrimp

by Tom Edathikunnel

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A recent discovery from an international research team across the United States, China, and the United Kingdom has unearthed fossils of the earliest known cardiovascular system, a system that for the first time clearly shows a complex system of heart and interconnecting blood vessels. The primitive system, discovered in the Fuxinanhula protensa, is dated to be over half a billion years old. These findings shed new light on the evolution of body organization throughout the animal kingdom and show that early creatures possesses organ systems and complex organ interaction similar to those in modern decedents.

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The three inch fossil appears to be a shrimp like creature and was found entombed in fine dust-like particle during the Cambrian Period over 520 million years ago. Found in what is today the Yunnan province of China, researchers believe that this species is an extinct lineage of arthropods that took the first steps toward advanced internal anatomy.

Nicholas Strausfeld, a Regents Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Arizona’s Department of Neuroscience stated “this is the first preserved vascular system that we know of.” As one of the world’s most foremost experts in arthropod morphology and neuroanatomy Strausfeld, the creatures complex organ system is a pattern that appears very much like a modern crustacean.

71240_webIn a surprising finding, Strauseld pointed out that Fuxinanhula protensa, vascular system is actually more complex than what is found in many modern crustaceans. “It appears to be the ground pattern for which others have evolved,” he states. “Different groups of crustaceans have vascular systems that have evolved into a variety of arrangements by all refer back to what we can see in Fuxinanhula protensa. Over the course of evolution certain segments of the animals body became specialized for certain things, while others because less elaborate.”

This spectacular finding demonstrates the rich complexity of early life on Earth and the evidence of consistent shifts in adaptable traits and beneficial attributes. Evolution is neither linear nor progressive, in that traits do not move from simple to more complex. Only through their subsequent success for reproduction do they continue to propagate. Thus a complex vascular system may have been beneficial in Cambrian Earth 520 million years ago, but became less effective over time, resulting in the more simplified and specialized crustaceans we see today.

The article “An exceptionally preserved arthropod cardiovascular system from the early Cambrian” appears in Nature Communications, published on April 7th, 2014.

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