Friday, September 21, 2012

Dimensionality

Advanced technologies have brought an ancient beastie to life, so to speak. Jakob Vinther, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, used microtomography and 3D printing (both developed in the 1980s) to give shape to a little-understood mollusk (that lived about 390 million years ago), then turned to an animator to give it movement (images here, video and available from National Geographic). The sea creature was called a multiplacophoran (Protobalanus spinicoronatus) and was only 1" long, oval-shaped, covered with stiff plates, and ringed with spines. The prototype for the project (in progress above) was discovered in Ohio by private collector George Kampouris, who donated it to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Ages ago, it crawled over the ocean surface on a single, suction-like foot, but had splayed out and decayed prior to fossilization. Its armor had fragmented and the plates were actually arranged in a single long row rather than 2 parallel rows. With the recreation, says Vinther, “We can now demonstrate that multiplacophorans are distant relatives of the modern chitons, which did not evolve until later in Earth history. We can also show that they evolved a number of characteristics seen in some modern chitons convergently.” Ironically, the innovative techniques used to reanimate the multiplacophoran were discovered 20 years earlier than the fossil itself (read more here and in Palaeontology).
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