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Author/DatePost
Melio
May 20 2009
Missing link, no longer missing.

anyone notice the news about "missing link" found?

Alex_Kasman
May 20 2009
Re: Missing link, no longer missing.

Melio,

You've got to separate the hype from the reality here, because may be a bit more hype than this discovery deserves. The actual research paper is available in the "Public Library of Science" here:

PLOS

You will note that the scientists are reserved and talk about the actual details of the finding: a 47 million year old fossil of a lemur-like animal with fingernails and opposable thumbs.

That's pretty cool.

To recognize the hype, however, just look for the phrase "missing link". This is being used by the makers of a TV documentary about the discovery and the publishers of the book to generate interest. The fact is, this is not "the" missing link. In fact, the whole idea of a missing link is ridiculous.

Think of it this way: imagine a person walking through a doorway which we can see in a pair of pictures. First, a picture of the person on one side of the door walking towards it, then another on the other side walking away from it. Is there a missing picture of the person? Well, not really. There are lots of instances where no picture was taken. If someone happened to locate a picture that was taken in between the other two, maybe showing the man with one foot through the door, would that be "the missing picture"? No, because once that was accepted, people could still say there were missing pictures between the first and second and between the second and third and one would still have to look for "the missing picture". In the same way, no matter how many fossils we find, those insisting on the discovery of a "missing link" can always insist that we find another transitional fossil between those we've already found.

In fact, "transitional fossil" is a much better term than "missing link". These are fossils of presently extinct creatures which represent a transitional period between other known species. Click here to see a list of transitional fossils. You will note that this new discovery is already listed there in under "human evolution". However, it is not the only one there.

So, it is a nice new fossil. I think it is a bit soon to say we know what its significance will be. (It may be that other scientists disagree with the claims of those who just announced it...so it may not even be what they say it is.) Let's wait and see. However, it seems likely that this is just one more of many fossils recording the evolution of primates with some nice unique features, but it is probably no more important than that.

-Alex

Melio
May 21 2009
Re: Missing link, no longer missing.

OH I never believe the hype! the news agency's always blow things way out of perspective! that's how they bank and keep the readership.

I am impressed by the find being that it contained genetic material, and some last meal fragments.. that's an impressive fossil! I hope one day I can actually see it in person.

n-atheist
May 21 2009
Re: Missing link, no longer missing.

Where did you hear that they were able to isolate DNA from the fossil? I just re-read the original paper and looked at a few of the news stories and didn't see anything about that. (They talk about using its physical features to place it on a phylo-genetic tree, but that doesn't mean that they actually found genetic material. They have apparently been able to pull DNA from some very unusual fossils that still have a marrow like material inside the bone, but this is not one of those far as I can tell.)

You are right that some of the contents of the digestive tract are visible in the fossil as well, but they appear to be entirely fossilized. In other words, you have to look at their shape to figure out what it was because it is now made up of minerals that filled the gap left by the original material. It isn't like bits of the actual food are left in there.

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