MU researchers have discovered a fossil containing some of the oldest known internal anatomical structures of an organism.

The 550-million-year-old fossilized tube shows evidence of containing a digestive tract. It was found in the Nevada desert, according to a news release from the university.

The discovery "reveals what scientists believe is a possible answer to the question" of how primitive crustaceans and worms are related, two groups that first began to emerge 540 million years ago, according to the release.

The scientists used micro-CT imaging at MU's X-ray Microanalysis Core facility to view 3D images of the fossil, allowing them to view what was inside.

According to the news release, Tara Selly, assistant director of the MU X-ray facility, said that by using CT imaging scientists can quickly analyze entire fossils, including internal features, without damaging them. 

The study was led by Jim Schiffbauer, MU associate professor of geological sciences and X-ray Microanalysis Core facility director.

Schiffbauer said the fossils they found fit into a recognizable group of organisms, called cloudinids. Scientists use these organisms to identify the last 10 to 15 million years of the period just before the Cambrian Explosion — the point when ancestors of many animal groups we know today first appeared, according to the news release.

  • General assignment reporter, Winter 2019. Studying magazine writing.

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