Dissecting embryos from half a billion years ago


There is a treasure trove in China: the well-preserved phosphatized embryos of the Doushantuo formation, a sampling of the developmental events in ancient metazoans between 551 and 635 million years ago. These are splendid specimens that give us a peek at some awesomely fragile organisms, and modern technology helps by giving us new tools, like x-ray computed tomography (CT), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), thin-section petrography, synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM), and computer-aided visualization, that allow us to dig into the fine detail inside these delicate specimens and display and manipulate the data. A new paper in Science describes a survey of a large collection of these embryos, probed with these new techniques, and rendered for our viewing pleasure…that is, we've got pretty pictures!

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