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Photo: Bill Ausich, courtesy Ohio State University
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Photo: Kevin Fitzsimons, courtesy of Ohio State University
350 million years ago, Indiana looked much like the Bahamas do today. In the warm shallow waters, small animals known as crinoids thrived. In a suprising discovery, biological chemicals from these early sea creatures have been discovered in fossils from across the Midwest, including at Monroe Lake near Bloomington.
William Ausich is the lead researcher of the team from The Ohio State University that discovered the intact crinoid chemicals. He says early research indicates the chemicals provide insight into what individual crinoids looked like, something scientists have never seen in 350-million-year old fossils.
“We found that there are different organic molecules that are preserved in different species, and therefore, there is some original biological signal recorded in these fossils,” he says.
Ausich is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the ancient sea creatures that lived in the Midwest when warm, shallow waters covered the region. He says the discovery means researchers will have an even better idea of the biological makeup of creatures that lived eons ago.
“There also appears to be some evolutionary signal left in these chemicals, so that crinoids that are more close to one another on the evolutionary tree appear to have more similar molecules to each other than they would to something that is farther away on the evolutionary tree,” he says.
Indiana University crinoid researcher David Polly says the OSU discovery means scientists can now go back to many previously discovered fossils and look for new evidence of biological chemicals.
“One can go back to those collections and learn new things,” he says. “They were originally part of somebody’s research in the past where they were studying one thing, and we can go back and learn new things with new developments like this.”
Indiana is a known hot spot for pre-historic crinoids. Polly says some of the earliest research into the creatures was done with fossil records found in Crawfordsville and Monroe Lake.