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Concept: Latimeria


The coelacanth Latimeria is the only extant representative of the Actinistia, a group of sarcopterygian fishes that originated in the Devonian. Moreover, it is the only extant vertebrate in which the neurocranium is divided into an anterior and a posterior portion that articulate by means of an intracranial joint. This joint is thought to be highly mobile, allowing an elevation of the anterior portion of the skull during prey capture. Here we provide a new description of the skull and jaw-closing system in Latimeria chalumnae in order to better understand its skull mechanics during prey capture. Based on a dissection and the CT scanning of an adult coelacanth, we provide a detailed description of the musculature and ligaments of the jaw system. We show that the m. adductor mandibulae is more complex than previously reported. We demonstrate that the basicranial muscle inserts more anteriorly than has been described previously, which has implications for its function. Moreover, the anterior insertion of the basicranial muscle does not correspond to the posterior tip of the tooth plate covering the parasphenoid, questioning previous inferences made on fossil coelacanths and other sarcopterygian fishes. Strong ligaments connect the anterior and the posterior portions of the skull at the level of the intracranial joint, as well as the notochord and the catazygals. These observations suggest that the intracranial joint is likely to be less mobile than previously thought and that its role during feeding merits to be reexamined.

Concepts: Bone, Fish, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Fossil, Coelacanth, Latimeria


The presence of a pulmonary organ that is entirely covered by true bone tissue and fills most of the abdominal cavity is hitherto unique to fossil actinistians. Although small hard plates have been recently reported in the lung of the extant coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae, the homology between these hard structures in fossil and extant forms remained to be demonstrated. Here, we resolve this question by reporting the presence of a similar histological pattern-true cellular bone with star-shaped osteocytes, and a globular mineralisation with radiating arrangement-in the lung plates of two fossil coelacanths (Swenzia latimerae and Axelrodichthys araripensis) and the plates that surround the lung of the most extensively studied extant coelacanth species, L. chalumnae. The point-for-point structural similarity of the plates in extant and fossil coelacanths supports their probable homology and, consequently, that of the organ they surround. Thus, this evidence questions the previous interpretations of the fatty organ as a component of the pulmonary complex of Latimeria.

Concepts: Bone, Heart, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Fossil, Coelacanth, Latimeria, Latimeria chalumnae


Latimeria menadoensis is a coelacanth species first identified in 1997 in Indonesia, at 10,000 Km of distance from its African congener. To date, only six specimens have been caught and just a very limited molecular data is available. In the present work we describe the de novo transcriptome assembly obtained from liver and testis samples collected from the fifth specimen ever caught of this species.

Concepts: Sample, Biology, Sarcopterygii, Coelacanth, Latimeria, Latimeria menadoensis


We compare the characteristics of the armored scales of three large fish, namely the Arapaima gigas (arapaima), Latimeria chalumnae (coelacanth), and Atractosteus spatula (alligator gar), with specific focus on their unique structure-mechanical property relationships and their specialized ability to provide protection from predatory pressures, with the ultimate goal of providing bio-inspiration for manmade materials. The arapaima has flexible and overlapping cycloid scales which consist of a tough Bouligand-type arrangement of collagen layers in the base and a hard external mineralized surface, protecting it from piranha, a predator with extremely sharp teeth. The coelacanth has overlapping elasmoid scales that consist of adjacent Bouligand-type pairs, forming a double-twisted Bouligand-type structure. The collagenous layers are connected by collagen fibril struts which significantly contribute to the energy dissipation, so that the scales have the capability to defend from predators such as sharks. The alligator gar has inflexible articulating ganoid scales made of a hard and highly mineralized enamel-like outer surface and a tough dentine-like bony base, which resist powerful bite forces of self-predation and attack by alligators. The structural differences between the three scales correspond with the attack of their predators, and show refined mechanisms which may be imitated and incorporated into superior bioinspired and biomimetic designs that are specialized to resist specific modes of predation.

Concepts: Predation, Coelacanth, Living fossil, Gar, Alligator gar, Latimeria


The coelacanth Latimeria is the only extant vertebrate in which the neurocranium is divided into an anterior and a posterior portion which articulate by means of an intracranial joint. This articulation is thought to allow an elevation of the snout up to 20°, which is supposed to enhance mouth gape and velocity, in turn allowing for a powerful suction. Several functional models have been proposed to explain the skull movement in Latimeria, but they disagree on the mechanisms responsible for mandibular depression and intracranial elevation, and more precisely on the role and mobility of the hyoid apparatus during these processes. We here show that the m. coracomandibularis spans ventrally to the palate-mandible joint, and is likely involved in mandibular depression. The hyoid apparatus is sheathed by several layers of ligaments, rendering extensive movements of the hyoid bones in the anteroposterior direction unlikely. Together with the manipulation of the 3D virtual model of the skull, these observations suggest that the hyoid arch is less mobile than previously proposed, and that the movements proposed in previous models are unlikely. In the light of our new observations, we suggest that the mechanisms proposed for explaining the intracranial elevation are incomplete. Moreover, we suggest that the extensive movements of the hyoid arch elements, which were thought to accompany intracranial elevation, are unlikely. In the absence of intracranial elevation, we propose that the movements of the hyoid mainly take place in the transverse plane, allowing the lateral expansion of the orobranchial chamber. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Bone, Skull, Joint, Ligament, Tetrapod, Coelacanth, Copyright, Latimeria


The morphological stasis of coelacanths has long suggested a slow evolutionary rate. General genomic stasis might also imply a decrease of transposable elements activity. To evaluate the potential activity of transposable elements (TEs) in “living fossil” species, transcriptomic data of Latimeria chalumnae and its Indonesian congener Latimeria menadoensis were compared through the RNA-sequencing mapping procedures in three different organs (liver, testis, and muscle). The analysis of coelacanth transcriptomes highlights a significant percentage of transcribed TEs in both species. Major contributors are LINE retrotransposons, especially from the CR1 family. Furthermore, some particular elements such as a LF-SINE and a LINE2 sequences seem to be more expressed than other elements. The amount of TEs expressed in testis suggests possible transposition burst in incoming generations. Moreover, significant amount of TEs in liver and muscle transcriptomes were also observed. Analyses of elements displaying marked organ-specific expression gave us the opportunity to highlight exaptation cases, that is, the recruitment of TEs as new cellular genes, but also to identify a new Latimeria-specific family of Short Interspersed Nuclear Elements called CoeG-SINEs. Overall, transcriptome results do not seem to be in line with a slow-evolving genome with poor TE activity. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 9999B: 1-11, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, RNA, Fossil, Coelacanth, Retrotransposon, Latimeria


Coelacanths are a critically valuable species to explore the gene changes that took place in the transition from aquatic to terrestrial life. One interesting and biologically relevant feature of the genus Latimeria is ureotelism. However not all urea is excreted from the body; in fact high concentrations are retained in plasma and seem to be involved in osmoregulation. The purine catabolic pathway, which leads to urea production in Latimeria, has progressively lost some steps, reflecting an enzyme loss during diversification of terrestrial species. We report the results of analyses of the liver and testis transcriptomes of the Indonesian coelacanth Latimeria menadoensis and of the genome of Latimeria chalumnae, which has recently been fully sequenced in the framework of the coelacanth genome project. We describe five genes, uricase, 5-hydroxyisourate hydrolase, parahox neighbor B, allantoinase, and allantoicase, each coding for one of the five enzymes involved in urate degradation to urea, and report the identification of a putative second form of 5-hydroxyisourate hydrolase that is characteristic of the genus Latimeria. The present data also highlight the activity of the complete purine pathway in the coelacanth liver and suggest its involvement in the maintenance of high plasma urea concentrations. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 9999B: XX-XX, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Organism, RNA, Urea, Coelacanth, Latimeria, Latimeria menadoensis