In 2023, Rodrigo Tinoco Figueroa made national headlines with his groundbreaking discovery of the earliest fossilized brain of a backboned animal preserved in a 319-million-year-old fish fossil found in the Lancashire region in England. Rodrigo has made yet another massive discovery, as he, along with a team of researchers, discovered remarkably well-preserved brains and other soft tissues in late Paleozoic ray-finned fish fossils found in Brazil.

“These fossils not only show extensive preservation of soft tissue but also provide a glimpse into the evolution of the brain of fish that lived more than 290 million years ago,” said Rodrigo. “Fossils like this are the only way we can get direct evidence of soft tissue elements from the past. Such information often breaks our expectations about living species.”

Rodrigo said of all the specimens, one called CP 065 is the most surprising.

“In addition to being the first specimen in which I noticed an everted brain, it is also one of the best-preserved fossils I have ever seen,” he said.

Rodrigo's research is part of his dissertation work under Matt Friedman and represents a five-year-long study. This research continues exploring the extent of soft tissue preservation and its potential to provide invaluable information that connects paleontology and biology. 

“Imagine a fossil more than 290 million years old that preserves the brain and its cranial nerves, the delicate meninges that support the brain inside the cranial cavity, gill filaments, fragments of blood vessels, parts of the heart, and possibly skeletal muscles. It is certainly a unique find. Specimens like this are the best way to bring paleontology closer to biology and vice versa.”

This breakthrough not only adds to our understanding of ancient life but also excites the scientific community about what else may be learned from such well-preserved fossils.

Read more information about the discovery here.