Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth by Keith S. ThomsonIn the winter of 1938, a fishing boat by chance dragged from the Indian Ocean a fish thought extinct for 70 million years. It was a coelacanth, which thrived concurrently with dinosaurs and pterodactyls—an animal of major importance to those who study the history of vertebrate life.
Living Fossil describes the life and habitat of the coelcanth and what scientists have learned about it during fifty years of research. It is an exciting and very human story, filled with ambitious and brilliant people, that reveals much about the practice of modern science.
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'Living Fossil' Gets Its Genome Sequenced
A living fossil is an extant taxon that closely resembles organisms otherwise known only from the fossil record. To be considered a living fossil, the fossil species must be old relative to the time of origin of the extant clade. Living fossils commonly are species-poor lineages, but they need not be. Living fossils exhibit stasis over geologically long time scales. Popular literature may wrongly claim that a "living fossil" has undergone no significant evolution since fossil times, with practically no molecular evolution or morphological changes.
The still-living coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae swims in its natural environment at a depth of meters in Sodwana Bay, South Africa. The find, described in the journal Nature Communications, helps to fill in some gaps in this mysterious lineage in the fishy family tree, and sheds light on how such fish might have looked around million years ago. Humans, like all mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, are tetrapods: four-legged vertebrate animals that all descended from an ancestral fish. This ancestor would have been a lobe-finned fish — somewhat different from the ray-finned fishes, from salmon to sardines, that fill the oceans today. Lobe-finned fish had rounded, fleshy fins, and they also had lungs along with their gills, which allowed them to breathe air.
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They are found along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean and Indonesia. Coelacanths belong to the subclass Actinistia , a group of lobed-finned fish related to lungfish and certain extinct Devonian fish such as osteolepiforms , porolepiforms , rhizodonts , and Panderichthys. It is a common name for the oldest living line of Sarcopterygii,  referring to the hollow caudal fin rays of the first fossil specimen described and named by Louis Agassiz in The coelacanth, which is related to lungfishes and tetrapods , was believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period. The Comoro Islands specimen was discovered in December The second extant species, Indonesian coelacanth , was described from Manado , North Sulawesi , Indonesia in by Pouyaud et al. After confirming that it was a unique discovery, Erdmann returned to Sulawesi in November to interview fishermen to look for further examples.
Frozen in time. A preserved coelacanth in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. The coelacanth isn't called a "living fossil" for nothing. The 2-meter-long, 90 kg fish was thought to have gone extinct 70 million years ago—until a fisherman caught one in —and the animal looks a lot like its fossil ancestors dating back million years. Now, the first analysis of the coelacanth's genome reveals why the fish may have changed so little over the ages. It also may help explain how fish like it moved onto land long ago. In order to sequence a coelacanth's Latimeria chalumnae genome, scientists required fresh tissue and blood.