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Coelacanth fossil sheds light on fin-to-limb evolution

ancestral morphology was. With things like this [fossil], were beginning to hone in on the primitive conditions of fins that gave rise to limbs later on.

Named Shoshonia arctopteryx after the Shoshoni people and the Shoshone National Forest, the fossil was excavated from Paleozoic sediments at Beartooth Butte in northern Wyoming.

Even though they both have been called living fossils, the discovery suggests that the two living groups of close fish relatives of tetrapods (lungfish and coelacanth) are both highly specialized, according to Friedman. Both groups acquired many of the same specializations, but independently of one another.

They give this perception that maybe those are general characters, but we can show with fossils like this one that theyve actually developed specializations in tandem, Friedman said.

Shoshonia also supports recent work by the University of Chicagos Neil Shubin, Marcus Davis and Randall Dahn that showed genetic expression of developmental patterns in fish fins and tetrapod limbs are conserved (Nature, May 24, 2007). With this fossil, we have a conservative pattern in a close relative of tetrapods that is actually conserved in other fish groups outside of this immediate group, Friedman said.

Not only does this fossil bridge the gap between primitive ray-finned fish and limbed animals like Tiktaalik roseae, the new data forces scientists to reassess the characteristics of the coelacanths, Friedman said.

Living fossils are a problematic concept, he said. Often times the fossils look like living animals because the fossils are so poorly studied. Once you start to go in depth with the fossils, you start highlighting differences.

Coelacanths were dubbed Old Fourlegs, because of their husky, limb-like fins. When they first discovered them in the 1930s, people made all sorts of inferences about them, Friedman said. They assumed that it would use its fins to walk around on the b
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Contact: Catherine Gianaro
catherine.gianaro@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
1-Aug-2007


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