Cancer Tumor Found In Mouth Of Fossilized 255-Million-Year-Old Human Ancestor

By Christie Abagon , Dec 10, 2016 12:03 AM EST

Paleontologists found a tumor in a 255-million-year-old giant human ancestor.  The beast may have had a terrible toothache caused by a cancerous tumor in its jaws.

Megan Whitney, lead author and UW biology graduate student, told "Most synapsids are extinct, and we - that is, mammals - are their only living descendants.  To understand when and how our mammalian features evolved, we have to study fossils of synapsids like the gorgonopsians."

Scientists Did Not Expect To See A Tumor In The Gorgon's Jaw

Gorgonopsids are ancient predators who lived during the Paleozoic age.  They are also known as 'gorgons' and grew up to 10 feet long.  Scientists from the University of Washington weren't looking for tumors when they sliced up the fossilized beast's jaw.

Odontoma is a benign tumor that is composed of normal dental tissue that has grown in an irregular way.  This can disrupt the position of the teeth and other tissues, and surgery is the common option to remove it.

According to the study: "Odontomas have been reported in a handful of fossil mammals up to a few million years old but were previously unknown in deep pre-mammalian evolutionary history." 

Senior author Christian Sidor, a UW professor of biology and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, said: "We think this is by far the oldest known instance of a compound odontoma.  It would indicate that this is an ancient type of tumor."

Odontoma Was Also Found In Fossilized Mammoths And Deers During The Ice Age

According to Dailymail, the earliest evidence of odontomas came from the Ice Age in fossilized mammoths and deer. 

Programme director in the US National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences which funded the research, Dr Judy Skog, said: "These researchers have found an example in the ancestors of mammals that lived 255 million years ago.  The discovery suggests that the suspected cause of an odontoma isn't tied solely to traits in modern species, as had been thought."

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