Bringing 400-million-year-old fossilized armored worms to ‘virtual’ life

A University of Missouri paleontologist and team created 3D virtual models of armor plates from fossilized skeletons of ancient worms, discovering two new species in the fossil record.

Dec. 17, 2021

Transcript

Brian Consiglio: To help protect themselves from predators, animals have adapted to their specific environments throughout the course of history. Now, a new study from the University of Missouri has identified two previously undiscovered species of ancient armored worms from about 400 million years ago.

Sarah Jacquet, an assistant professor in the MU College of Arts and Science, used the MU X-Ray Microanalysis Core facility to develop digital three-dimensional models of the species’ individual armor plates to virtually examine the armored skeletons of these ancient worms.

Jacquet: “Using Micro-CT, we can actually virtually go in and dis-articulate these individual components of the armor, and then look at how effective that was in protecting these worms and what made them such a successful group during this period of time until they unfortunately go extinct.”

Consiglio: Roughly 400 million years ago, these worms likely lived near coral reefs in shallow water on what is now land in Australia. The armor likely helped protect these ancient worms from predators nearby.

Jacquet: “We’re manipulating the models so that we can determine how the actual armor pieces moved relative to each other, the degree of overlap between them, so if something were to come across them to try and eat these things or bite them, is that going to be efficient to break the armor of these worms.”

Consiglio: For more on this research, visit showme.missouri.edu.

I’m Brian Consiglio, with a Spotlight on Mizzou.

Learn more about the research here

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