A primitive fish provides key characters bearing on deep osteichthyan phylogeny

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Osteichthyans, or bony vertebrates, include actinopterygians (teleosts and their relatives) and sarcopterygians (coelacanths, lungfishes and tetrapods). Despite features found in basal actinopterygians (for example, Dialipina and Ligulalepis)1-3 and basal sarcopterygians (for example, Psarolepis and Achoania)4,5, the morphological gap between the two lineages remains wide and how sarcopterygians developed a dermal surface covering known as cosmine (composed of a pore-canal network and a single layer of odontodes and enamel) is still poorly known6-10. Here we describe a primitive fossil fish, Meemannia eos gen. et sp. nov., that possesses an actinopterygian-like skull roof and a cosmine-like dermal surface combining a pore-canal network (found in various fossil sarcopterygians) with superimposed layers of odontodes and enamel (previously known in actinopterygians and some acanthodians11-13). This 405-million-year-old fish from the Lower Devonian of Yunnan (China) demonstrates that cosmine in many fossil sarcopterygians arose step by step through the acquisition of a pore-canal network followed by the subsequently developed ability to resorb previous generations of odontodes and enamel. Meemannia provides key characters for studying deep osteichthyan phylogeny and indicates a possible morphotype for the common ancestor of actinopterygians and sarcopterygians. © 2006 Nature Publishing Group.

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