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Deciphering early stages of VERTebrate evolution: insights from long IGnored Belgian Devonian fossil Organisms - VERTIGO

The evolutionary history of vertebrates began, at the latest, during the early Cambrian (c. 520 Myr) with the first occurrence of laterally flattened soft-bodied organisms known as chordates, possessing a notochord (the forerunner of the vertebral column) but devoid of backbone and jaw. Vertebrates subsequently underwent major anatomical changes (e.g. acquisition of a vertebral column). In the VERTIGO project, we propose to focus on two of the major steps of the evolutive history of vertebrates, namely (i) the evolution of early soft-bodied chordates and (ii) the radiation of a group of early vertebrates (euphaneropids).

Early chordate and early vertebrate fossils provide our only direct information on the origin of vertebrates and on how their distinctive body plan evolved. Unfortunately, the fossil record of early chordates and part of the early vertebrates is extremely scarce as these organisms mostly consist of decay-prone soft parts (e.g. muscles) that are usually degraded soon after their death and thus lost prior to fossilization, making the interpretation of their anatomy highly challenging.

To overcome these issues, the VERTIGO project proposes to focus on the study of new findings of putative early chordates and euphaneropids from the Lower Devonian of Belgium. As it is crucial to retrieve as much anatomical details as possible, we will use state-of-the-art imaging and spectroscopy techniques allowing new sources of morphological contrasts and a spatial resolution of their (bio)chemistry.

Related media(s)
Device used at Synchrotron Soleil (Gif-sur-Yvette) with a reconstruction of Pikaia by N. Tamura (top left)
Internal member(s)
Bernard Mottequin
Sébastien Olive
Other member(s)
Pierre Gueriau (Synchrotron Soleil)
Philippe Janvier (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Département Origines et Evolution)
Funding
Belspo Brain VERTIGO (B2/202/P1/VERTIGO)
Partners and sponsors
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