Science can sometimes be a messy endeavor – not to mention “disgusting and smelly”. This is how British researchers describe their experiment of observing a 70-day decomposing sea bass carcass. In the process, they gained some interesting insights into how (and why) the soft tissues of internal organs could be selectively preserved in the fossil record, according to new paper Published in the Journal of Paleontology.
Most fossils are bones, shells, teeth, and other forms of “hard” tissue, but rare fossils are occasionally found that preserve soft tissues such as skin, muscles, organs, or even eyeballs. It can tell scientists so much about aspects of the biology, ecology, and evolution of ancient organisms that skeletons alone cannot. For example, earlier this year, Create a researcher Highly detailed 3D model of a 365 million year old ammonite fossil from Jurassic period by incorporating advanced imaging techniques, Reveal the inner muscles which has never been observed before.
“One of the best ways soft tissues can turn to stone is when they are replaced by a mineral called calcium phosphate (sometimes called apatite),” Co-author Thomas Clements said: from the University of Birmingham. “Scientists have been studying calcium phosphate for decades trying to understand how this process occurs — but one question we don’t understand is why some internal organs seem more likely than others.”
In particular, the muscles, stomach, and intestines tend to “phosphate” more often than other organs, such as the kidneys and gonads. There are two general hypotheses to explain this. The first is that different organs degrade at different rates, and that the pH of some organs will drop below a critical threshold of 6.4. When these organs degrade, they create a different pH microenvironment that increases the potential for these organs to harden. Different minerals can form in different areas within the same carcass.