Scientists discover ancient link to modern ears
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A fossil of a prehistoric mammal discovered in northeastern China may help scientists figure out how the delicate hearing organs in mammals developed, an article authored by a team of Chinese and American scientists reports in the latest issue of Science.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History curator Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo was part of the team of paleontologists that studied the small, squirrel-like mammal, termed Maotherium asiaticus, and he co-authored the Science report, which appears in the issue on newsstands tomorrow and is on the publication's Web site today.
Dr. Luo said paleontologists are especially interested in the development of the modern mammal ear because sensitive hearing is likely what helped mammals survive and diversify.
The specimen is important because it may represent an anatomical intermediary between mammals and their reptile ancestors. Paleontologists believe that the modern mammalian ear bones evolved from the jawbone of these reptilian pre-cursors. This specimen, which lived around 123 million years ago, strengthens this argument, since one of its ear bones is actually fused to the jawbone.
First Published October 8, 2009 2:40 pm