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March 9, 2015

China/United Kingdom

Did the Human Brain Evolve from a Shrimp?

 

Today, Monday, March 9, 2015, Scientists from the London’s Natural History Museum will provoke a heated debate at the Royal Society in London on the origins of the brain when they put forward a controversial theory: that the human brain may have evolved from primitive shrimps that first emerged 520 million years ago.

 

Evidence for the theory comes from the discovery of the world’s earliest brain, discovered in fossils discovered in China’s Yunnan province.  Usually soft tissue like brain and heart are not preserved during fossilization.  However, the Chinese samples were preserved because they were in fossil beds with unusual qualities.

 

Such was the detail preserved in fossils of the ancient shrimp that scientists were able to compare them to modern creatures and were astonished by their apparent similarities despite being separated by over half a billion years.

 

Xiaoya Ma, one of the scientist at the Natural History Museum who came up with the theory, said, “The layout and structure of these creatures’ brains have many similarities in what we see in modern creatures.  ...It suggests animals first evolved brains over 600-700 million years ago and that was the basis for what we see in most animals today.”

 

The findings are important because they imply the first brain evolved before the big split between invertebrates and vertebrate.  This may explain why the nervous systems of all living creatures have many similarities.

 

Other scientists believe the brain evolved many times among different species.  Leonid Moroz, professor of neuroscience at Florida University, will announce his own theory at the conference: that the brain evolved separately in up to 11 different groups.  In a summary of his findings Moroz says: “Astonishingly, our analysis reveals that neural centralization and formation of brains might have independently evolved at least seven to 11 times during the 550 million years of animal evolution.  ...The hypothesis we are testing is that the complex brains we find in representatives of existing animal phyla are the result of parallel evolution of different ancestral cell lineages.”

 

Source: International Business Times.  A Bit of a Prawn: Did Human Brains Evolve from Shrimp-Like Creatures?  Mark Piggott (email m.piggott@ibtimes.co.uk).  March 8, 2015.

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