Aug 16, 2017 | By Tess

3D printing and 3D scanning have helped scientists from the Australian National University in Canberra uncover some new and interesting things about the human evolution process. While it may not seem like the most obvious connection, the researchers have found links between a 400 million-year-old fish fossil and modern-day humans.

Yuzhi Hu, PhD student at ANU, sits with 3D printed fossil

(Image: Stuart Hay / ANU)

The study, which was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, details how an ANU research team was able to use CT scanning and 3D printing technology to discover that an upper portion of the ancient fish’s jaw structure actually bears a striking resemblance to a bone now found in our inner ears.

Also impressive about the project was the uncovering of the 400 million-year-old fish fossil. As Yuzhi Hu, a PhD researcher at ANU, explained, the fossil is one of the most well-preserved skull and braincase fossils of a placoderm that has ever been found.

Long extinct, the early fish called placoderms existed from the Silurian to the Devonian Period, and are best known for their protective armor plates. This particular placoderm fossil was uncovered in an ancient limestone deposit near Lake Burrinjuck in Australia.

Large-scale 3D printed replica of the placoderm fossil's jaw

Since its discovery, Hu and her fellow researchers set about scanning the fossil and used the data from the scan to 3D print a detailed model of the placoderm’s jaw structure. By closely analyzing the 3D print, the researchers were able to identify interesting parts of the fossil, particular an upper jaw bone which resembles a bone in humans’ inner ears.

The discovery sheds more light onto a recent research trend within the field of evolution, which has found links between maxillate placoderms and the human species than were ever known. The research took off in Beijing, China, where Dr. Jing Lu, a co-author on the ANU study, was a key team member.

As she explained, the Chinese placoderm fossils that were uncovered were found to have the same maxilla bone that formed humans’ upper jaws. Still, most of the fossils found in China were not perfectly preserved, which limited research.

Ventral view of the 3D printed fossil

(Images: ANU)

“Other internal structures were apparently made of cartilage, and are not clearly preserved, unlike the Burrinjuck skull," she explained. "The Australian fossil helps us to interpret these aspects in the Chinese maxillate placoderms.”

"Thanks to the international collaboration, we are making great progress to work out the sequence of key evolutionary innovations at the origin of the jawed vertebrates.”

The full research paper, entitled “New findings in a 400 million-year-old Devonian placoderm shed light on jaw structure and function in basal gnathostomes,” can be found here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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