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Physics - Radiology and Medical Imaging

Exceptionally Preserved Cambrian Trilobite Digestive System Revealed in 3D by Synchrotron-Radiation X-Ray Tomographic Microscopy
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Author: Mats E. Eriksson et al.

by Mats E. Eriksson, Fredrik Terfelt

The Cambrian ‘Orsten’ fauna comprises exceptionally preserved and phosphatised microscopic arthropods. The external morphology of these fossils is well known, but their internal soft-tissue anatomy has remained virtually unknown. Here, we report the first non-biomineralised tissues from a juvenile polymerid trilobite, represented by digestive structures, glands, and connective strands harboured in a hypostome from the Swedish ‘Orsten’ fauna. Synchrotron-radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy enabled three-dimensional internal recordings at sub-micrometre resolution. The specimen provides the first unambiguous evidence for a J-shaped anterior gut and the presence of a crop with a constricted alimentary tract in the Trilobita. Moreover, the gut is Y-shaped in cross section, probably due to a collapsed lumen of that shape, another feature which has not previously been observed in trilobites. The combination of anatomical features suggests that the trilobite hypostome is functionally analogous to the labrum of euarthropods and that it was a sophisticated element closely integrated with the digestive system. This study also briefly addresses the preservational bias of the ‘Orsten’ fauna, particularly the near-absence of polymerid trilobites, and the taphonomy of the soft-tissue-harbouring hypostome.