April 23, 2009

Fossil may offer ‘missing link’ proof

A 24-million-year-old fossil thought to be a missing link in evolution has been discovered in northern Canada, researchers said.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist Mary Dawson was a member of an international team that found the fossil, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said Thursday.

The find -- reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature -- may be the missing link between land carnivores and seals, sea lions and walruses, the newspaper said.

San Diego State University biologist Annalisa Berta -- who was not a part of the team that discovered the fossil -- told the newspaper it is a fabulous discovery.

It really fills an important gap in the transition from the land to the sea, Berta said. It really is the most terrestrial-like seal ever discovered.

The team named the animal Puijila darwini -- combining the Inuit word for young sea mammal with darwini for Darwin, the scientist who published revolutionary theories in biological evolution 150 years ago.

The animal was about 3 feet long and had well developed muscles and webbed toes. Researchers said it probably are fish, rodents and birds.

The expedition that discovered the fossil was led by Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature.