Source: China Daily

03-31-2009 11:34

Special Report:   Tech Max

The recent discovery in China of an unusually intact and ancient fossil fish, the distant ancestor of about 99.7 percent of today’s living vertebrates including human beings, has provoked a rash of new fieldwork and a fresh look at the early evolution of vertebrates.

An artist's illustration of an ancient fish, called Guiyu. The recent discovery in China of an unusually intact and ancient fossil fish, the distant ancestor of about 99.7 percent of today's living vertebrates including human beings, has provoked a fresh look at the early evolution of vertebrates. []

An artist's illustration of an ancient fish, called Guiyu.
The recent discovery in China of an unusually intact and
ancient fossil fish, the distant ancestor of about 99.7
percent of today's living vertebrates including human beings,
has provoked a fresh look at the early evolution of vertebrates.

The fish, called Guiyu and described in detail in today's (May 26) journal Nature by Zhu Min and his colleagues from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) under the China Academy of Sciences, dates back to the Silurian period, more than 418 million years ago.

It is the earliest known representative of a very large vertebrate group, the "bony fishes" or Osteichthyes, the class of vertebrates that includes everything from humans to halibut.

There are more than 60,000 living species of Osteichthyes today, including almost all the fish that we eat (except sharks) and all land vertebrates, according to Zhu, the first author of the Nature report.

"Crucially, this piscine offshoot of our own distant past is both unusually intact and exceptionally old," says Professor Michael I. Coates from the University of Chicago, who wrote a review of the discovery of Guiyu also in today's Nature.

"Earlier stretches of Osteichthyan history are littered with fossil detritus, such as isolated teeth and scales," says Coates.

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