Friday, 18 October 2013

Big clawed fossil had spider-like brain

Scientists have discovered the best-preserved nervous system in an ancient fossil.

Dating back 520 million years, the clawed spider-like fossil shows clear evidence of a brain and of nerve cords running through the creature's trunk.

The specimen now confirms that the ancestors of spiders and scorpions were related, but branched off more than half-a-billion years ago.

A team of international scientists present their work in Nature.

The "great appendage" arthropods, are an extinct group of joint-legged creatures with large claw-like appendages - or growths - protruding from their heads.

The nervous system tends to be similar between major groups of animals, which helps palaeontologists work out how they are related, explained Greg Edgecombe from the Natural History Museum in London.

"The nervous system is one of the more reliable tool-kits we have. We were trying to investigate whether there was evidence for the preservation of neural tissues from very early parts of the animal fossil record," he told BBC News.

"What we've been working with is fossils with very fine anatomical preservation from the Cambrian period. These have given us information about brains, the nerve cords and the neural tissue that goes into the eyes."

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