419-Million-Year-Old Chinese Fossil Shows Human Middle Ear Evolved From Fish Gills

Shuyu 3D Braincase

The 3D braincase of Shuyu. Credit: IVPP

The human middle ear—which houses three tiny, vibrating bones—is key to transporting sound vibrations into the inner ear, where they become nerve impulses that allow us to hear.

Embryonic and fossil evidence proves that the human middle ear evolved from the spiracle of fishes. However, the origin of the vertebrate spiracle has long been an unsolved mystery in vertebrate evolution.

“These fossils provided the first anatomical and fossil evidence for a vertebrate spiracle originating from fish gills.” — Prof. GAI Zhikun

Some 20th century researchers, believing that early vertebrates must possess a complete spiracular gill, searched for one between the mandibular and hyoid arches of early vertebrates. Despite extensive research spanning more than a century, though, none were found in any vertebrate fossils.

Now, however, scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and their collaborators have found clues to this mystery from armored galeaspid fossils in China.

Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on May 19, 2022.

According to Prof. GAI Zhikun from IVPP, first author of the study, researchers from the institute successively found over the last 20 years a 438-million-year-old Shuyu 3D braincase fossil and the first 419-million-year-old galeaspid fossil completely preserved with gill filaments in the first branchial chamber. The fossils were found in Changxing, Zhejiang Province and Qujing, Yunnan Province, respectively.

Shuyu 3D Virtual Reconstruction

The 3D virtual reconstruction of Shuyu. Credit: IVPP

“These fossils provided the first anatomical and fossil evidence for a vertebrate spiracle originating from fish gills,” said GAI.

A total of seven virtual endocasts of the Shuyu braincase were subsequently reconstructed. Almost all details of the cranial anatomy of Shuyu were revealed in its fingernail-sized skull, including five brain divisions, sensory organs, and cranial nerve and blood vessel passages in the skull.

“Many important structures of human beings can be traced back to our fish ancestors, such as our teeth, jaws, middle ears, etc. The main task of paleontologists is to find the important missing links in the evolutionary chain from fish to humans. Shuyu has been regarded as a key missing link as important as Archaeopteryx, Ichthyostega and Tiktaalik,” said ZHU Min, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

419-Million-Year-Old Galeaspid Fossil Completely Preserved With Gill Filaments

The first 419-million-year-old galeaspid fossil completely preserved with gill filaments in the first branchial chamber. Credit: IVPP

The spiracle is a small hole behind each eye that opens to the mouth in some fishes. In sharks and all rays, the spiracle is responsible for the intake of water into the buccal space before being expelled from the gills. The spiracle is often located towards the top of the animal allowing breathing even while the animal is mostly buried under sediment.

In the Polypterus, the most primitive, living bony fish, the spiracles are used to breathe air. However, fish spiracles were eventually replaced in most non-fish species as they evolved to breathe through their noses and mouths. In early tetrapods, the spiracle seems to have developed first into the Otic notch. Like the spiracle, it was used in respiration and was incapable of sensing sound. Later the spiracle evolved into the ear of modern tetrapods, eventually becoming the hearing canal used for transmitting sound to the brain via tiny inner ear bones. This function has remained throughout the evolution to humans.

“Our finding bridges the entire history of the spiracular slit, bringing together recent discoveries from the gill pouches of fossil jawless vertebrates, via the spiracles of the earliest jawed vertebrates, to the middle ears of the first tetrapods, which tells this extraordinary evolutionary story,” said Prof. Per E. Ahlberg from Uppsala University and academician of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Reference: “The Evolution of the Spiracular Region From Jawless Fishes to Tetrapods” by Zhikun Gai, Min Zhu, Per E. Ahlberg and Philip C. J. Donoghue, 19 May 2022, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2022.887172

30 Comments on "419-Million-Year-Old Chinese Fossil Shows Human Middle Ear Evolved From Fish Gills"

  1. Mick Musclecar | June 20, 2022 at 10:42 pm | Reply

    This revelation will really set off the religious conservatives/creationists. The idea of human ears evolving from fish gills will become foundational in so many of their conspiracy theories and fantasies about victimization. I look forward to their varied responses.

    • Reoce Jacobs | June 23, 2022 at 2:30 am | Reply

      “To go from a bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.” – Lynn Margulis, agnostic biologist and ex-wife of Carl Sagan

      • It’s obvious. However, abiogenesis did take place, and experiments have shown not only how amino acids could form in the conditions of early earth, but also how RNA could form, and how it could initiate protein synthesis without rybosomes. Try to keep up.

  2. Bull. Sh*t.

    • More like lack of imagination and unwillingness to be open to scientific evidence on your part.

    • If you are referring to the bible, torah, quran and/or any religious literature, yopu are absolutely correct. They are all Bull.Sh*t.

  3. Depends on whether you are religious or not.

  4. First it’s monkeys now fish but let’s totally ignore how we found human footprints in 40 million year old fossil layer unearthed in turkey and many other areas of the world.
    Fact of the is matter humans changed little and I feel we originally came from another planetary system so long time ago and got stranded here and learned to adapt

  5. I really would enjoy learning how much real these findings are, to know each and every fact. That would be real scientific. The headline is fantastic “They have found the missing link!” Some fishes have this hole, and we look at an almost solid stone guy here. We find filaments of some fish organs or so we think. I just can’t keep not wondering, what is the technology behind identifying the filaments of an organ on a totally stoned guy. You see what I mean? There are seriously lots of things we just assume here. First of, we assume we do have such a hole in our skull and assume it has no other use, just urged to think is left to us from fish ancestors. I remember this Dawkins guy, trying to prove some vein on the giraffe’s neck assuming today, unnecessarily moving up to the head – which brings the conclusions that giraffe evolved from some other short animal. No sorry! To the conclusion that “if some divine intelligence created the giraffe, that vein wouldn’t travel all that way up and back down. That’s a flawed design. So there’s no God!” How scientific of you man!
    Is there any option to extract DNS from that alleged organ and the guy himself and compare after all those years… I would love to see solid evidences of facts of human origins but come on lay man! We should be in search of the “Truth”, not some anything to shut the mouths of creationists. Mindblowing finding that fossil is, though. 419 million years! Wow!

    • I guess if you want to challenge the existing scientific theories, learning to read and write might be a good first step. The fish is not stoned, but fossilized (although we can’t exclude that it was stoned before it became fossilized). If you read up on CT scans (you Germans call it Röntgen Tomographie I guess) that are done on fossils in universities all over the world, you would understand the technology being used.

      DNA (or DNS as you Germans call it) degrades after a few thousand years, and we have not been able to extract full genomes even from perfectly frozen specimens of mammoth. Even if we were to extract DNA from a 419 MY fossil, what do you expect to get from that? We don’t have magic software that creates 3D images of creatures based on DNA, and we can’t create those creatures based on their DNA (in case you weren’t aware, Jurassic Park was not a documentary). A better way might be to track the ontogeny of the middle ear in amphibians, by tagging the embryonic gill arches with fluorescent dye.

      Macht’s gut.

  6. Wesley Pratt | June 22, 2022 at 7:25 am | Reply

    Let’s make sure it happened 400 million years ago so nobody can prove anybody wrong. People still believe in evolution? Talk about diluted and ego driven “science”. I wish these guys were just say we are bent on getting rid of God and moral authority with outlandish bad theories with no evidence.

    • Keep crying, stone age numbnuts. Most of us have moved on from the fairy tales concocted by stone age goat herders who had no friggin’ idea how the world worked, but people with low IQ like you keep spamming the science threads with inane drivel, using computers that god gave you… Oh, wait he didn’t. Science did.

      By the way, with god, it’s always a he, isn’t it… God’s gotta have a dong and a nutsack, but no way to use them. Now that’s what I call cosmic blue balls. Oh, oh… maybe that’s why the sky is blue.

      • Well if you dig for enough into a computer you will realize that indeed God gave us the computer, just like how we find these 419 fossils. Love how you have to keep yourself feeling intelligent by separating others who have a different opinion. Do you think arrogance is a virtue?

  7. Virgil Workman | June 23, 2022 at 7:06 am | Reply

    That is really something. No way do I believe this. Very silly indeed. Maybe they can figure out how a penis can morph into a vagina? Lol. Silly so-called scientists. Lol

    • They already did find the process you are describing. It happens to all biological males during development before the Y chromosome kicks in everyone starts out as a female until they gestate long enough. Can’t see what that has to do with speciation though.

    • Also have you ever had a look at the skeletal system of the fin of a blue whale compared to a human’s? There is a reason so many people believe in evolution. It is just guess work, conserved regions in DNA, morphological similarities, statistics to see whether those differences are significant enough. Science can be really cool if you give it a chance. And if by the end you still don’t think it is real, well that is your right. But criticizing others over your own personal beliefs is petty and you should know better. <3

  8. Lyle Simpson | June 23, 2022 at 5:28 pm | Reply

    🤣😆😂😅 The fossil doesn’t “SHOW” anything other than it’s a fossil! The absolute leaps of imagination that supposed educated people come up with and call it science is laughable even on the surface of their assumptions…. which is all it is, the surface of an assumption that that cannot stand the scrutiny of a 9 year old let alone pass as verifiable observable repeatable science.

    • You have the link to the publishing paper on the scientific page.
      If you have strong counter arguments please present them,other than feeling smart and saying nothing.

  9. Paul Lindquist | June 24, 2022 at 8:22 am | Reply

    Your linked, Atheistic Old Earth/Evolution Theories are Godless nonsense that is disproved by Population Math alone: Before cops and pensions, past Couples needed large families for old age support. But if the Couples averaged just 4 kids, twice each 2 parents, by age 30, per 30 years, then a mere 30,000 years of humanity would of entailed 1000 doubles of Earth’s human population. So take 2 times 2 for 1000 times on a computer, see what you get! You need a computer for this, a calculator won’t register the bigger numbers, except in hard to understand math jargon. You Scientists have created a pagan, Godless society that scorns the spiritual and intellectuals like you, and exhalts the athletic and sexy people, you have demeaned younger people like yourselves. Heck, let’s suppose the Couples averaged just 3 kids per 30 years, 1.5 times each 2 parents. Take 2 times 1.5 for 1000 times, see what you get!!!

  10. Anybody ever try doing a statistical study of the probability of evolutionary advance? The math will conclusive prove that extinction is far more likely that evolutionary advance (especially for species significantly larger than termites).

  11. “Embryonic and fossil evidence proves that the human middle ear evolved from the spiracle of fishes.” What has happened to science? What about that basic lesson “There’s no proof in science”? One’s imagination imposed upon the data can’t be taken as “proof” at all Embryonic and fossil similarities don’t prove any connection. This mere assumption is even destroyed by other evolutionary assumption: “convergent evolution is everywhere”. In scientific terms, the weakest hypothesis for Covid19 origins is more “robust” (regarding real evidence) than this typical unhealthy (and just propagandistic) evolutionary reasoning. Btw, wich hypothesis for Covid19 an evolutionist is willing to admit that has been “proved”?

  12. To all the cretinous, hyperreligious posters: why does science have to be wrong in order for God to exist!!? WITAF?!? SMH

  13. To believe anything being from “millions” of years ago is laughable…..were any one of us, or scientists even here 40-419 million years ago…. ;0

  14. I think of the very intelligent Kent Hovind who would clearly and precisely debunk this claim using science!!!

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