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Ancient oddball invertebrate finds its place on the tree of life

illustration of a hyolith

Tentacles protruding from this hyolith’s shell (illustrated) are part of a feeding organ called a lophophore, which is also found in modern horseshoe worms.

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Hyoliths are evolutionary misfits no more.

This class of ancient marine invertebrates has now been firmly pegged as lophophorates, a group whose living members include horseshoe worms and lamp shells, concludes an analysis of more than 1,500 fossils, including preserved soft tissue.  

The soft-bodied creatures, encased in conical shells, concealed U-shaped guts and rings of tentacles called lophophores that surrounded their mouths. Fossil analysis suggests that hyoliths used those tentacles and spines, called helens, to trawl the seafloor more than 500 million years ago, researchers report online January 11 in Nature.

For years, paleontologists have argued over where on the tree of life these bottom-feeders belonged. Some scientists thought hyoliths were closely related to mollusks, while others thought the odd-looking creatures deserved a branch all their own. This new insight into hyolith anatomy “settles a long-standing paleontological debate,” the researchers write.

fossil of hyolith

Pollution,, Oceans

Ocean plastic emits chemical that tricks seabirds into eating trash

By Laurel Hamers 2:00pm, November 9, 2016
Some seabirds might be eating plastic because it emits a chemical that smells like food.

Young planets carve rings and spirals in the gas around their suns

By Christopher Crockett 8:07am, November 9, 2016
New telescope images show rings and spiral arms in disks encircling young stars, suggesting the presence of actively growing planets.
Animals,, Conservation

Most illegal ivory is less than three years old

By Helen Thompson 5:00pm, November 7, 2016
Most of the ivory seized by law enforcement in the last decade doesn’t come from elephants poached many years ago.

Antibody protects against Zika virus in tests in mice

By Meghan Rosen 3:47pm, November 7, 2016
A new treatment for Zika relies on human antibodies and can help protect pregnant mice from the virus’s damaging effects.
Genetics,, Immune Science,, Biomedicine

Protective genetic variant may offer a path to future autoimmune therapies

By Tina Hesman Saey 2:00pm, November 2, 2016
A natural tweak in the TYK2 protein strikes a balance between weak and overactive immune systems.
Planetary Science

Mars lander debris spotted

By Christopher Crockett 4:38pm, October 27, 2016
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter imaged the impact site of the Schiaparelli Mars lander, missing in action since its October 19 descent.
Planetary Science

Two unseen moons may circle Uranus

By Christopher Crockett 7:00am, October 25, 2016
Two more moons might be lurking around Uranus, causing material in the planet’s rings to clump up, Voyager 2 data suggest.

Nose cells fix knee cartilage in human trial

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, October 24, 2016
A small clinical trial suggests that using nose cells to patch knee cartilage could be a viable treatment for injuries.
Planetary Science

Mars lander silent as mission scientists work out what went wrong

By Christopher Crockett 10:01am, October 20, 2016
Schiaparelli lander is still silent on the surface of Mars while mission scientists try to understand what happened during the probe’s descent.
Planetary Science

Juno spacecraft goes into ‘safe mode,’ continues to orbit Jupiter

By Christopher Crockett 6:57pm, October 19, 2016
The Juno spacecraft has gone into safe mode while in orbit around Jupiter. Mission scientists are also closely monitoring a fuel valve issue on the probe.
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