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400-mln-year-old fish fossils reveal origins of human ear

Chinese scientists have found clues to the connection between fossils unearthed in the provinces of Zhejiang and Yunnan and the origin of vertebrate spiracles from gills. The human middle ear which houses the bones that carry out vibrations responsible for transporting sound is speculated to have evolved through this path.

Gai Zhikun, a Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher and the first author of the article “The Evolution of the Spiracular Region From Jawless Fish to Tetrapods,” concluded that there is ample embryonic and fossil evidence that the human middle ear has evolved from a fish’s spiracle.

“The discovery of these ancient fish fossils is proof that our middle ears originated from fish gills. It explains why human ears don’t breathe today, but they’re still connected to the mouth, because they used to be the organ of fish’s respiratory system,” said Gai.

From excavations of fossils in the early Devonian strata, the research team unearthed the first fossil material of a broad-shelled turtle with intact gill-filaments marks that provide relatively accurate evidence for the theory that the spiracle of vertebrates such as fish originates from degenerated gills.

“Many human body structures can be traced back to the ancestors of fish, such as our teeth, jaws and middle ears. Palaeontologists are filling in important processes in the chain of evolution from fish to humans. The fossil of Qujing ancient fish kingdom provides important evidence for the improvement of this chain,” said Zhu Min, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under CAS.

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