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January 21, 2014


Thermopolis archaeopteryx.jpg

False colour image of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx.



Synchrotron-based imaging of zoological and paleontological samples



Dr Phillip Lars Manning

University of Manchester


28th January- 4.00 pm

Earth Sciences Seminar Room
(Basement, WEB 05, the previous Mineralogy Seminar Room)


Biomolecules have been identified within living organisms that utilise metals to help mediate or catalyse chemical transformations of organic molecules and/or perform key biological functions e.g., iron in hemoglobin and magnesium in chlorophyll. Trace metals such as copper, zinc and nickel are also essential for routine metabolic functions, performing specific roles dependent on the tissue-type in which they are occur. Therefore, the ability to resolve elemental inventories and their distribution within fossil organisms might provide valuable information pertaining to the biology, function and evolution of a species. However, in order for original biochemistry to be resolved, it must be clearly shown that the observed fossil chemistry has not been derived through geologic/taphonomic processes and that the trace elements are detectable. Commercially available techniques (such as scanning electron microscopy and electron microprobe) lack the ability to chemically image large areas and/or lack the sensitivity required to investigate the trace metal chemistry preserved in fossils. Given the dilute concentrations of such trace-elements in biological tissues, the only reliable way to spatially resolve such inventories is through the application of synchrotron-based elemental imaging techniques. Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-Ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) is a uniquely optimized method that can simultaneously detect elements in trace amounts, accommodate sizeable specimens (up to 1m2) and scan large surface areas in short time periods (~30 s/cm2) at high resolution (~2-100 microns). Complementary X-Ray Absorption spectroscopy (XAS) can also indentify the oxidation state of elements within a fossil and help determine whether they are organically derived. A series of unique fossil samples have already been mapped using SRS-XRF, including a 50 mya reptile (cf.  Bahndwivici ammoskius), 120 mya bird (Confuciusornis sanctus) and a 150 mya bird (Archaeopteryx). Results from both SRS-XRF and XAS clearly show endogenous bioaccumulated trace-metal chemistry can be preserved in fossils after tens of millions of years. The results provide a unique insight into the preserved biochemistry of these extinct organisms.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see





(Image from Wikipedia)



The Vredefort impact structure, South Africa: witness of a planetary catastrophe, gold deposit and world heritage



Uwe Reimold

Natural History Museum, Berlin

Thursday 23rd January - 4.00 pm


The Vredefort impact structure in South Africa is, at some 250 km diameter and 2.02 Ga age, the oldest and largest currently known impact structure on Earth. It encompasses the entire Witwatersrand Basin of great economic geological significance. Because of the great geological age of this impact and the complex multi-stage metamorphic history of the target terrane the recognition of evidence for impact has long been controversial. Shock microdeformation and the genesis of massive pseudotachylitic breccias and enigmatic impact melt rock deposits
will be discussed, as well as the more recent history of Vredefort as a World Heritage Area.





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NHM Expedition to Sabah, Borneo: Report from the Freshwater Team








Mary Spencer Jones, David Bass, Hanna Hartikainen, Beth Okamura

Department of Life Sciences, NHM


Wednesday 22 of January 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


Borneo contains some of the oldest rainforest in the world and is characterised by exceptionally high biodiversity being the centre of evolution and radiation of many species of plants and animals endemic to the region. Endemism in freshwater organisms has been particularly demonstrated for fishes, amphibians and some aquatic invertebrates (especially insects), but the diversity of aquatic taxa is poorly understood relative to that of the terrestrial flora and fauna. An even more incomplete understanding characterises what is known of the diversity of parasitic groups in this region and most particularly of those groups that are poorly known overall. The aim of the NHM Sabah Expedition Freshwater Team was to undertake a combination of environmental and targeted sampling to explore the diversity of parasitic groups across a range of sites and habitats. A key component of our work involved adopting environmental sampling to significantly improve on discovery rates of novel endoparasitic lineages and thereby avoid the necessity of finding parasites within host organisms. A second objective was to gain better understanding of the diversity of freshwater bryozoans (Phylum Bryozoa, Class Phylactolaemata) and their myxozoan parasites. We will provide a summary of our activities and results thereby demonstrating how our programme of work is revealing novel biodiversity of aquatic life.


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