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German scientists examined bones of the oldest turtle in the world from a quarry in Baden-Württemberg and found for the first time the traces of a malignant tumor in a fossil of this age - this cancer is around 240 million years old.
We know from fossil bones in humans that Neanderthals have already had bone cancer. They lived until a few tens of thousands of years ago, the great turtle, in which a tumor has now been detected, crawled around millions of years before the dinosaurs.
Bone cancer 240 million years old
Pappochelys rosinae lived in the Triassic, 240 million years ago. Paleontologists found their fossils at the Lower Keuper of Vellberg in Baden-Württemberg. Scientists from the Berlin Natural History Museum and the Charité have now found bone cancer in the fossil remains, as it also exists in humans.
The oldest known occurrence of cancer
According to a scientist from the Berlin Natural History Museum, it is the oldest known occurrence of cancer in the group of animals, which includes reptiles like this turtle, birds and mammals (humans are also mammals). Until now, malignant tumors in fossils from Triassic, Jurassic or chalk were almost unknown.
How did the researchers discover cancer?
The scientists examined the bones with a micro-CT and found the cancer. They irradiated the petrification with X-rays in a tomograph and were able to see all the details inside the bone. The bone tissue coincided so clearly with that of a person suffering from bone cancer that the diagnosis left no doubt.
The diagnosis was periosteal osteosarcoma on the femur. Osteosarcomas are the most common primary malignant bone tumors, popularly known as bone cancer. He was identified by the bones, since his proliferating cells, bones and uncalcified bone basic substance form, that is, the bones deform. Tumors that, on the other hand, affect soft parts that do not petrify cannot be detected.
Great turtle with unfinished shell
Pappochelys still had an unfinished tank that consisted only of widened ribs. In contrast to modern turtles, the shoulder girdle bones were not connected to the belly shell. The slender shoulder blade, however, resembled today's descendants. The belly armor was already emerging.
What did the animal look like?
Pappochely's size corresponded to an average pond turtle today, it only measured around 30 cm, but half of it was for the tail. From an external point of view, we would probably have thought of them as a kind of primeval lizard, because the turtle shell lay under the skin and the tail was longer than most of the turtles today. The jaw, too, did not yet have the beak of today's turtles, but was set with teeth, and there were two large openings in the skull where the jaw muscles attached.
Why did the turtle get sick?
Bone tumors usually arise from mutations in a gene that determines the development of the skeleton. Then the bone cells can no longer communicate with the cell environment and multiply uncontrollably. It doesn't matter whether it's a human or a reptile. By the way, that's not the only thing we have in common with the living tanks. New studies say: Similar proteins protect human skin like turtles. Many pet owners are also unaware that diseases from exotic pets such as turtles can also infect humans.
The discovery corresponds to the theories of cancer research. Since bone cancer is caused by a gene mutation, it could be assumed that it was rampant even in ancient times. However, evidence is very important for science. This is how a theory becomes a fact.
What does the find mean for medicine?
The 240 million year old bone tumor is first of all a stone testimony against dubious speculations that represent all forms of cancer as a result of “bad emotions” or “sinful lifestyle”. The cancer of a turtle and a human is no different. The “primary tumor” may be promoting research into the genetic changes that cause cancer. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)