Thu, Mar 08, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Human origins are traced to fossilized worm in Canada

AFP, OTTAWA

Paleontologists have traced the origins of humans and other vertebrates to a worm that swam in the oceans half a billion years ago, said a study published on Monday.

A new analysis of fossils unearthed in the Canadian Rockies determined that the extinct Pikaia gracilens is the most primitive known member of the chordate family, which today includes fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals.

The research published in the British scientific journal Biological Reviews identified a notochord or rod that would become part of the backbone in vertebrates, and skeletal muscle tissue called myomeres in 114 fossil specimens of the creature.

“The discovery of myomeres is the smoking gun that we have long been seeking,” said the study’s lead author, Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University.

“So, next time we put the family photograph on the mantle-piece, there in the background will be Pikaia,” he said.

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