Elpistostege and the origin of the vertebrate hand

Journal: Nature

Published: 2020-03-18

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2100-8

Affiliations: 3

Authors: 7

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Research Highlight

Fossilized fin sheds light on evolution of the hand

© Mark Mawson/Getty

© Mark Mawson/Getty

The complete fossil of a four-limbed fish, which existed around 374 million years ago, has provided a key piece of the evolutionary puzzle of how fins evolved into hands.

A team that included researchers from Flinders University in Australia used computed tomography imaging to reveal the bone structure in the pectoral fins of the 1.57-metre-long fossil of Elpistostege watsoni.

They found the species has both carpal wrist bones and parallel-aligned bones that resemble the start of fingers in the human hand, but these come together in the bony spines characteristic of the end of a fish fin.

The structure may have enabled the animal to support some of its weight while moving in shallow water or on land. It is the closest a fin has come in structure to the separate digits seen in four-limbed animals.

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  1. Nature 579, 549–554 (2020). doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2100-8
Institutions Share
Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), Canada 0.50
Flinders University, Australia 0.43
South Australian Museum, Australia 0.07