lunes, 11 de abril de 2011

Detectan vestigios de quitina en el fósil de un aterrador escorpión gigante

Nuevos análisis realizados en el fósil de 417 millones de años de antigüedad de un inquietante escorpión gigante, de una especie ya extinta, han revelado vestigios de quitina en su exoesqueleto. Este hallazgo convierte en realidad algo que hasta ahora se consideraba imposible: La antigüedad de la quitina hallada es varios cientos de millones de años mayor que la que se consideraba la máxima posible para la conservación de este material.

El hallazgo fue realizado por un equipo de científicos dirigido por George Cody del Instituto Carnegie de Washington. Los análisis se llevaron a cabo en las instalaciones de la ALS (Advanced Light Source) en el Laboratorio Nacional Lawrence Berkeley, en California.
El trabajo que estos expertos han realizado contradice al criterio convencional de que no se conserva material orgánico, como el hallado en la parte exterior del exoesqueleto, en fósiles muy antiguos, porque la acción de los microbios y otros procesos naturales lo descomponen fácilmente. La capa exterior del exoesqueleto está compuesta por una "malla" fibrosa de quitina, un polisacárido rico en nitrógeno, acomodada en una matriz de proteínas estructurales.

Los científicos encontraron la firma molecular de este material en un fósil con una antigüedad de 417 millones de años, perteneciente a un ejemplar de artrópodo extinto que parece un escorpión gigante. Algunas especies de euriptéridos medían hasta más de dos metros de largo. Los autores del estudio también encontraron un complejo proteico de quitina en un fósil de escorpión con 310 millones años de antigüedad. Anteriormente, la evidencia más antigua de quitina provenía de fósiles con una antigüedad de 25 millones de años.

El tamaño de estos escorpiones gigantes es una atemorizante demostración de que en el pasado los arácnidos, los insectos, los crustáceos y algunas otras criaturas eran mucho más grandes que hoy. El estudio de una pinza de escorpión marino gigante, realizado en 2007 por el paleontólogo alemán Markus Poschmann, Simon J. Braddy (de la Universidad de Bristol) y Erik Tetlie (de la Universidad de Yale), desveló, tal como informamos entonces en NC&T, que la escalofriante bestia medía alrededor de 2,5 metros de largo, lo que pasó a situarle como el mayor escorpión que la evolución haya producido.

Por lo que se sabe, los euriptéridos son los antepasados acuáticos (y ya extintos) de los escorpiones terrestres, y posiblemente de todos los arácnidos propiamente dichos.

Algunos geólogos creen que en el pasado, los artrópodos gigantes evolucionaron a medida que se elevaban los niveles de oxígeno de la atmósfera, beneficiándose de las concentraciones atmosféricas de este gas mayores que la actual. Otros creen que evolucionaron en una "carrera armamentista" junto a sus probables presas, los primeros peces con armadura.

Noticias de Ciencia y Tecnología

Escorpión prehistórico. (Foto: Simon Powell)

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