An ancient radiodont predator with three eyes reveals key information about the evolution of the arthropod body plan.
New research based on a cache of fossils that contains the brain and nervous system of a half-billion-year-old marine predator from the Burgess Shale called Stanleycaris has been revealed by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Belonging to an ancient, extinct offshoot of the arthropod evolutionary tree called Radiodonta, Stanleycaris is distantly related to modern insects and spiders. These results shed light on the evolution of the arthropod brain, vision, and head structure.
“The details are so clear it’s as if we were looking at an animal that died yesterday.”
— Joseph Moysiuk
The findings were announced in the research paper, “A three-eyed radiodont with fossilized neuroanatomy informs the origin of the arthropod head and segmentation,” published on July 5, 2022, in the journal Current Biology.
What has scientists most excited is what’s inside Stanleycaris’ head. The remains of the brain and nerves are still preserved after 506 million years in 84 of the fossils.
“While fossilized brains from the Cambrian Period aren’t new, this discovery stands out for the astonishing quality of preservation and the large number of specimens,” said Joseph Moysiuk, lead author of the research and a University of Toronto (U of T) PhD Candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, based at the Royal Ontario Museum. “We can even make out fine details such as visual processing centers serving the large eyes and traces of nerves entering the appendages. The details are so clear it’s as if we were looking at an animal that died yesterday.”
Turntable animation of Stanleycaris hirpex, including transparency to show internal organs. Credit: Animation by Sabrina Cappelli © Royal Ontario Museum
The new fossils reveal that the brain of Stanleycaris was composed of two segments, the protocerebrum, connected with the eyes, and the deutocerebrum, connected with the frontal claws.
“We conclude that a two-segmented head and brain has deep roots in the arthropod lineage and that its evolution likely preceded the three-segmented brain that characterizes all living members of this diverse animal phylum,” added Moysiuk.
In present-day arthropods like insects, the brain consists of protocerebrum, deutocerebrum, and tritocerebrum. While the difference in a segment may not sound game-changing, it in fact has radical scientific implications. Since repeated copies of many arthropod organs can be found in their segmented bodies, figuring out how segments line up between different species is key to understanding how these structures diversified across the group.
“These fossils are like a Rosetta Stone, helping to link traits in radiodonts and other early fossil arthropods with their counterparts in surviving groups.”
In addition to its pair of stalked eyes, Stanleycaris possessed a large central eye at the front of its head, a feature never before noticed in a radiodont. “The presence of a huge third eye in Stanleycaris was unexpected. It emphasizes that these animals were even more bizarre-looking than we thought, but also shows us that the earliest arthropods had already evolved a variety of complex visual systems like many of their modern kin” said Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, ROM’s Richard Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, and Moysiuk’s PhD supervisor. “Since most radiodonts are only known from scattered bits and pieces, this discovery is a crucial jump forward in understanding what they looked like and how they lived,” added Caron, who is also an Associate Professor at the U of T, in Ecology & Evolution and Earth Sciences.
In the Cambrian Period, radiodonts included some of the biggest animals around, with the famous “weird wonder” Anomalocaris reaching up to at least 1 meter in length. At no more than 20 cm long, Stanleycaris was small for its group, but at a time when most animals grew no bigger than a human finger, it would have been an impressive predator. Stanleycaris’ sophisticated sensory and nervous systems would have enabled it to efficiently pick out small prey in the gloom.
With large compound eyes, a formidable-looking circular mouth lined with teeth, frontal claws with an impressive array of spines, and a flexible, segmented body with a series of swimming flaps along its sides, Stanleycaris would have been the stuff of nightmares for any small bottom dweller unfortunate enough to cross its path.
About the Burgess Shale
For this research, Moysiuk and Caron studied a previously unpublished collection of 268 specimens of Stanleycaris. The fossils were primarily collected in the 1980s and 90s from rock layers above the famous Walcott Quarry site of the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada, and are part of the extensive collection of Burgess Shale fossils housed at ROM.
The Burgess Shale fossil sites are located within Yoho and Kootenay National Parks and are managed by Parks Canada. Parks Canada is proud to work with leading scientific researchers to expand knowledge and understanding of this key period of earth history and to share these sites with the world through award-winning guided hikes. The Burgess Shale was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 due to its outstanding universal value and is now part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
Fossils of Stanleycaris can be seen by the public in the new Burgess Shale fossil display in the Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life at ROM.
Reference: “A three-eyed radiodont with fossilized neuroanatomy informs the origin of the arthropod head and segmentation” by Joseph Moysiuk and Jean-Bernard Caron, 8 July 2022, Current Biology.
Major research funding support came from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, via a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship to Moysiuk and a Discovery Grant (no. 341944) to Caron.
Race back to space: Nations want a piece of the moon pie – CTech
The Artemis rocket, NASA’s behemoth Space Launch System (SLS) designed to take humanity back to the moon is scheduled for its first test launch on August 29th. Leading up to that launch, the megarocket began rolling out to its designated launchpad, 39B, earlier this week at an incredible speed of 1km/h. The launch, which will send an unmanned Orion space capsule into lunar orbit, is a test run for ultimately sending astronauts back for a lunar flyby in 2024 and a lunar landing as early as 2025.
That test launch, which is slated to last up to 42 days and should reach within 100 km of the lunar surface, will end only months before the 50th anniversary of the last time man was on the moon. The Apollo 17’s twelve-day mission returned home in mid-December 1972. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo.
There will also be a Snoopy doll. Snoopy has long been associated with NASA’s space efforts, and this doll and other toys will be used as zero-gravity indicators to let researchers know when the rocket has entered zero gravity. Four Lego minifigures will also be on the flight in a nod to the longstanding relationship between NASA and Lego and as part of an effort to promote STEM education.
In addition to the scientific efforts of the Orion capsule, the ship will also carry over fifty kilograms of mementos, including a space time capsule, seeds, and an Amazon Alexa embedded in a device called Callisto, who in keeping with NASA’s Greek mythology inclinations, was Artemis’ hunting attendant.
In spite of this memento laden crewless Orion capsule, NASA claims that once it gets figuratively off the ground, its new Artemis program will, in contrast to the earlier Apollo missions, be less focused on ‘flags and footprints’ and more on science research and getting humanity ready for longer term habitats on the moon and ultimately Mars.
Notably, Israel isn’t the only country collaborating with the United States on its return to the moon. The Artemis program is a multinational effort of which Israeli is a recent member. Saudi Arabia just signed on as the 21st nation to the Artemis Accords during US President Joe Biden’s recent middle east trip. Canada is another collaborator on the Artemis project. The Canadian government will be providing a third iteration of its famous robotic Canadarm, as well as a moon rover for the project. A Canadian astronaut will also fill one of the four seats on the first crewed Artemis flight to the moon.
Given its interest in mankind’s return to the moon, Canada is keen on having its astronauts on their best behavior. As such, there was a recommendation to amend Canada’s criminal laws to specifically include the possibility of prosecution for misdemeanors committed on the moon by Canadians. Crimes committed on the International Space Station by Canadians already fall within the long-arm of the Canadian justice system.
While the US has not yet followed suit with similar legislation, US Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced an interest in revising other aspects of US space regulations so that they are more in-line with the current state of commercial space exploration. A follow-up tweet announced that this will be explored in greater detail next month, around the same time that the Artemis rocket will be sitting in Lunar orbit
However, expanding Canadian, or any other jurisdiction for that matter, onto the moon might come in conflict with what NASA administrator Bill Nelson claims is China’s goal of claiming the moon as its own: “We must be very concerned that China is landing on the moon and saying: It’s ours now and you stay out.” In their defense, China rejects that assertion.
Of course, China isn’t the only national player that might lay claim to some or all of the moon. The Artemis Accords to which Israel is a signatory, allow for national efforts to mine and extract valuable resources from the moon and other celestial bodies — a potentially, hugely profitable endeavor. In spite of non-appropriation and ‘province of all mankind’ language within the universally accepted Outer Space Treaty.
All these lunar land claims could create some interesting legal precedent. The last time NASA had a legal tussle with putative private property proprietors in space. they won against the pro se claimant on a technicality (Nemitz v. NASA, 126 Fed. Appx. 343 (2005). Hopefully with so many potential claimants and the possibility of a manned lunar base, the next time NASA is sued for landing on someone’s lunar claim, the outcome will be more interesting.
Prof. Dov Greenbaum is the director of the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies at the Harry Radzyner Law School, at Reichman University.
Artemis 1 will help NASA protect astronauts from deep space radiation – Space.com
A motley crew of mannequins and biological experiments will take a deep-space journey further than any human has been before.
The simulated astronauts and various experiments will ride aboard Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion spacecraft, following a launch no earlier than Aug. 29. The system will explore the radiation environment near Earth and the moon, including flying in deeper space than the Apollo missions, for more than a month.
Moving outside the protective Van Allen radiation belts near Earth that shield the International Space Station astronauts from cosmic rays will cause an increased risk for future crew members that venture out for lunar missions, scientists said in a livestreamed NASA briefing Wednesday (Aug. 17).
“Understanding this [risk] is very important for successful and sustainable space exploration efforts in deep space,” said Ramona Gaza of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the briefing.
Gaza is lead of the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) science team, which also includes investigators from DLR (the German space agency). MARE will fly two mannequin torsos (or phantoms) called Helga and Zohar to space fitted with 5,600 sensors to measure radiation; of the two, only Zohar will wear an AstroRad radiation protection vest.
The two “crew members” will be joined by a “moonikin” named after Apollo 13 engineer Arturo Campos. Along with picking up information on acceleration and vibration, Campos has two radiation sensors to see the accumulated exposure a moon mission will bring.
Besides the humanoids, yeast cells will fly on board Artemis 1 to see how living things react to radiation. The BioSentinel cubesat will fly a biology experiment beyond the Earth-moon system for the first time, assessing how yeast cells are affected by space radiation.
“We hope that we can extrapolate our resource to human biology and inform potential countermeasures for future missions,” lead scientist Sergio Santa Maria, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, said of BioSentinel.
Protecting astronauts also comes down to an assessment of the radiation environment. Scientists will continue to study the sun‘s emissions using another cubesat called CubeSat to Study Solar Particles (CuSP). The mission will examine the particles and magnetic fields coming from the sun, also known as the solar wind.
The solar wind not only has relevance to human health in space, but also on Earth; that’s because large space weather events like coronal mass ejections can affect power lines, satellites and other infrastructure vital to human functioning on our planet.
CuSP will be an experiment ahead of possible plans to put fleets of cubesats into deep space to look at solar radiation from multiple angles, said Mihir Desai, CuSP principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute.
“It will be, in some sense, a forerunner or pathfinder to a potential constellation of low-cost cubesats that can make measurements in a very cost-effective fashion,” he said.
Russian spacewalk cut short by bad battery in cosmonaut suit – The Indian Express
A Russian spacewalker had to rush back inside the International Space Station on Wednesday when the battery voltage in his spacesuit suddenly dropped. Russian Mission Control ordered Oleg Artemyev, the station commander, to quickly return to the airlock so he could hook his suit to station power. The hatch remained open as his spacewalking partner, Denis Matveev, tidied up outside.NASA said neither man was ever in any danger.
Matveev, in fact, remained outside for another hour or so, before he, too, was ordered to wrap it up. Although Matveev’s suit was fine, Russian Mission Control cut the spacewalk short since flight rules insist on the buddy system. The cosmonauts managed to install cameras on the European Space Agency’s new robot arm before the trouble cropped up, barely two hours into a planned 6 1/2-hour spacewalk.“You know, the start was so excellent,” Matveev said as he made his way back inside, with some of the robot arm installation work left undone.
The 36-foot (11-meter) robot arm arrived at the space station last summer aboard a Russian lab. NASA spacewalks, meanwhile, have been on hold for months. In March, water seeped into a German spacewalker’s helmet. It was not nearly as much leakage as occurred in 2013 when an Italian astronaut almost drowned, but still posed a safety concern. In the earlier case, the water originated from the cooling system in the suit’s undergarments. The spacesuit that malfunctioned in March will be returned to Earth as early as this week in a SpaceX capsule, for further investigation.
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