Environment Chewing on brain development

Chewing on brain development

A new study has shown how brains developed in the first land animals, and it’s all to do with jaws leaving the ocean.

The international study focused on prehistoric “relic” tetrapods — living examples of ancient four-legged animals that first moved from water to land — like lungfish, salamanders and coelacanths.

Flinders University researchers joined with colleagues from Canada and Scotland to study the way the animals’ little brains developed as they made the terrestrial transition.

Using micro-CT and MRI scans to make 3D models of small animal heads, palaeontology researchers found how the eating habits and brains of some of the first land-based animals prepared them for life on dry land.

For the first time, the team was able to demonstrate the interplay between how the jaw muscles needed to eat new types of food affected how the brain sits inside the brain cavity.

According to Flinders University researcher Dr Alice Clement, little is known about how brains changed over this transition because soft tissue like brains and muscles don’t survive in fossils.

“Coelacanth and lungfish are the only lobe-finned fish alive today, but their relatives were the lineage of fish that first left the water to colonise land,” Dr Clement said.

“We studied the brains of living animals, and the internal space of the skull or ‘endocast’ to figure out what brains of fossils animals must have looked like.”

She said the changes are reflected in some modern animals.

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