Using methods engineering In the modern era, scientists from an international collaboration have revealed one of the greatest mysteries of trilobites, the ancestors of today’s arthropods that lived for 270 million years, between the Cambrian – 520 million years ago – and Permian – about 251 years ago. Years-.
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Trilobites are one of the most successful groups of animals that inhabited the planet Earth, It survived several mass extinctions until the habitat was shared with other animals such as amphibians or the ancestors of the first reptiles of dinosaurs.
The researchers led by Spanish paleontologist Jorge Esteve, professor University of the Andes Mountains, He performed an analysis of so-called “finite elements” in 3D models, a method of mechanical engineering used to calculate how much weight structures like bridges could support or how large skyscraper columns would have to be to climb to the top, in order to understand how trilobites were used For its heads to make holes in the ground and feed on the small prey that has fallen on it.
Every 3D structure is subjected to external stresses, from the weight of the structure itself, in the case of a 100-story building, to the weight of a mountain, in the case of a tunnel. Knowing how efforts are distributed across these structures allows us to identify potential weaknesses, “explains Esteve.
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The paleontologist demonstrates the principle with another example: “If we put a prosthesis on to replace the hip joint, we must calculate how much effort the prosthesis will withstand, given that the resistance of a person’s weight of 50 kg differs from that of another 100”.
Finite element analysis works with a file Software It indicates colors ranging from blue (greater resistance) to red (less resistance) how the structure will behave mechanically.
“If the prosthesis has many areas in red, when performing a finite element simulation, you will have to change the materials or geometry of the prosthesis to get more areas in blue, and in this way, the person will not face any problems due to possible fractures,” explains the scientist. .
Instead of studying the fossils in the laboratory, as is common in Paleontology Scientists applied the limited models to 27 trilobite species, all from the Cambrian period (500 million years ago).
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Thus, they showed that the shape of the head not only helped them improve the clearance of their shells, allowing these arthropods to grow, but also made them able to withstand the tremendous effort when they made grooves in the ground to feed on their young. Worms and particles on the sea floor, as horseshoe crabs do today.
Finite element analysis showed that a series of “strings” in the side lobes of trilobites (anatomically speaking, trilobites divided into three longitudinal lobes, hence their name) prevent these weak areas from being broken during drilling, making it easier for them. They have to melt and make grooves to feed them.
This adaptation to trilobites also allowed them to perform increasingly complex and deep excavations, such as galleries and burrows.
Finite element technology is not new to paleontology. It began to be used to find out, for example, just how powerful a carnivorous dinosaur bite like the famous dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus rex Or the Allosaurus.
These early works were carried out by Professor Emily Rayfield, of the University of Bristol, who is now co-author with Esteve of a trilobite study published in the prestigious journal. Paleontology.
“Rayfield’s studies helped him figure out the strength of a dinosaur bite and deduce, for example, what kind of diet would you follow: if they were scavengers or active predators,” Esteve says.
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For Esteve, the significance of his new work lies in the fact that it sheds light on the mechanism of trilobite feeding, a possible reason for its evolutionary history, and so successful that it has led them to live more than 270 million years, and many millions more years longer than dinosaurs or our species Had lived.
Moreover, this trilobite behavior “plowed” the soil of the seas during the Cambrian and later Ordovician period (480 million years ago). Like a farmer plowing his soil for aeration, the trilobites ‘plowed’ the early earth’s soils, triggering the biogeochemical and biogeochemical cycles critical to life. If these iconic arthropods did not exist, the conditions would not have been for life to flourish as it has been from that moment on, “says Esteve.
Nicholas Bustamante Hernandez
Science Journalist – for EL TIEMPO
In Twitter: ScienceNico
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