Ancient pig-like animal shows early brain development

Researchers say a new study on an ancient animal like the pig is helping them learn more about brain development in mammals.

The animal is known as Gordonia. It is believed to have lived more than 250 million years ago in what is now Scotland. At that time, Scotland was part of a sandy desert. Today it rains a lot and it tastes like four seasons.

Gordonia was known as a protomammal – a predecessor of mammals. The creature lived during the Permian period. Some proto-mammals retained some qualities of their reptilian ancestors.

An international group of researchers used high quality, 3D imaging equipment to examine a Gordonia FOSSIL. This allowed the team to make a digital copy of the animal’s brain. The researchers said this led them to learn new details about the size and shape of the brain in early mammalian development.

The team recently published their findings about the fossil in a study published in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

The study’s lead author was PhD student Hady George, who attends Britain’s University of Bristol. She told the Reuters news agency, “Overall, Gordonia’s brain looks more like a reptile than a mammal, despite being more closely related to us than any modern living reptile.”

The researchers noticed that the animal’s brain was very different from that of modern mammals. However, the size of its brain relative to its body seemed to suggest the beginning of gains in intelligence seen later in mammals and humans. George said the front part of Gordonia’s brain – called the forebrain – is relatively much smaller than any other mammal.

Another leader of the research was Steve Brusatte, a scientist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He told Reuters that the brain the team studied was not as circular as the human brain. Rather, it is shaped more like “a long, with a bow pipe.”

Brusatte noted that upon closer examination, the researchers realized that the animal’s brain was “very large compared to its body size.”

He added that it is difficult to measure intelligence in modern-day people. So it’s even harder to measure this in long-extinct animals. “But we can at least say in general that it would have been a smart creature for its time,” Brusatte said.

The researchers estimated that Gordonia was about one meter long and weighed 20 kilograms. The animal’s head was long and broad, with a sharp mouth and Flocks to help it eat the plant material of the desert. It had a pig-like build, but its legs were not as long as a pig’s, they noted.

Gordonia belonged to a group of protomammals called dicynodonts. The group survived the worst FADE in Earth history 252 million years ago at the end of the Permian period. The extinction event is thought to have been caused by extreme volcanic activity.

Scientists believe that the first dinosaurs began to appear about 230 million years ago, while mammals came about 20 million years later.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA to learn English.


The words in this story

mammal n. an animal that feeds its babies with milk from its own body

predecessor – n. a person or thing that existed before another

three dimensional (3D) – adj. having or appearing to have length, depth and height

FOSSIL – n. something (such as a leaf, skeleton, or footprint) from a plant or animal that lived in ancient times that you can see in old rocks

pipe – n. a long, thoughtful container with a round center

with a bow – adj. something that has a curved shape like a bow

batches – n. one of two long, sharp teeth that protrude from the mouth of some animals

Missing – adj. it no longer exists

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