The researchers used CT scans to make 3D reconstructions of features of the fossilized nervous system. The scientists also used laser-scanning technology to map the distribution of chemical elements, such as iron and copper, in the specimen in order to outline different neural structures.
Though finding a well-preserved ancient nervous system is rare, the new study highlights the potential for similar discoveries, the researchers said.
"Finding ancient preservation of neural tissue allows us to analyze extinct animals using the same tools we use for living animals," Edgecombe said. "It suggests there should be more examples out there."
About a year ago, Edgecombe and his colleagues found a different fossilized brain that revealed unexpected similarity to the brains of modern crustaceans.
"Our new find is exciting because it shows that mandibulates (to which crustaceans belong) and chelicerates were already present as two distinct evolutionary trajectories 520 million years ago, which means their common ancestor must have existed much deeper in time," Strausfeld said in a statement. "We expect to find fossils of animals that have persisted from more ancient times, and I'm hopeful we will one day find the ancestral type of both the mandibulate and chelicerate nervous system ground patterns. They had to come from somewhere. Now the search is on."
The detailed findings of the study were published online today (Oct. 16) in the journal Nature.
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