Artist's impression of Pappochelys rosinae, the oldest known turtle. Scientists have discovered a mysterious mass in the fossil of an old creature discovered in 2015. A recent study found that the mass is a malignant tumor. ( Museum für Naturkunde )
A team of experts from Germany, Canada and the United States cooperated to diagnose 240 million-year-old Pappochelys rosinae, the oldest known turtle.
After the analysis, it was found that the ancient creature suffers from a type of rare bone cancer called the periodic osteosarcoma. A fossilized tumor was found in the last legs of the animal, similar to that seen in people who have been diagnosed with the disease.
"This is one of the oldest cancer cases in vertebrate fossil records, and the oldest case in amniotic conditions, a group that includes reptiles, birds and mammals," said Florian Witzmann, co-author of the study.
Findings appear in JAMA Oncology.
240 million years old tumor
The tumor was an incredible discovery, not because the cancer in old beings was unusual. In fact, scientists believe that the disease was as common as today. The problem is that cancer in fossils is difficult to recognize.
The disease is an abnormal growth of cells in soft tissues, as well as hard tissues (such as bones). However, soft tissues rarely occur in fossil records. Therefore, the diagnosis of old-age disease is limited to what remains: hard tissue.
In order to diagnose the old turtle, researchers used microscopy and computer tomography, a type of X-ray. The process showed the mass in the bone layer, called the period.
Researchers have eliminated the possibility that the infection would be due to the absence of pores where the cat would have expired. It was also found that octopus osteosarcomas were previously reported in amphibians who lived during the Triassic period.
"Our findings provide further evidence that cancer is not confined to modern human physiology," said Yara Haridy of the Berlin Museum and the lead author of the study. "Instead, the susceptibility to this root disease is far back into the evolutionary history of vertebrates, hundreds of millions of years before the onset of humans."
Turtle without a shell
Pappochelys is the ancestor of today's turtles. The Earth was going around the period of the Triads, when the first dinosaurs began to appear.
The discovery of Pappochely provided key information on the development of turtles. Thousands of years ago, creatures had wide ribs of trunk, but without a shell.
In the Schumann quarry in southwestern Germany, remains of the ancient turtle were discovered in 2015.
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