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23 Posts tagged with the palaeontology tag
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Palaeo-ecosystems in Pleistocene Europe: Insights from stable isotopes of large mammal fossils

 

Prof. Hervé Bocherens, University of Tübingen, Germany

 

Tuesday 3rd February - 4.00 pm

 

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

 

The climatic fluctuations of the Pleistocene have caused dramatic changes in the ecosystems of Europe during the last million years. These ecosystems, cold or warm, included a high diversity of megafauna, in contrast to recent ecosystems under similar climatic conditions.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_024715_preview.jpgTooth of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)

 

To gain a better understanding of the functioning of these ecosystems with no modern analogue, the isotopic composition in carbon, nitrogen and oxygen of the large mammal fossil bones and teeth were used to document key aspects of their ecology, such as habitat, diet preference, niche partitioning, and predator-prey interactions. In addition, isotopic analysis of fossil hominids and their prey allows the reconstruction of subsistence patterns and inferences on the possible anthropogenic impact on the environment.

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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Palaeoenvironmental analysis of a Mesolithic-Neolithic sedimentary sequence from Queens Sedgemoor, Somerset

 

Dr Tom Hill – NHM

 

23 Sept - 4.00 pm

 

Earth Sciences Seminar Room (Basement, WEB 05)

 

A sediment core extracted from Queen’s Sedgemoor, Somerset Levels, has undergone high resolution radiocarbon dating. Subsequent directed micropalaeontological (palynological, diatom and calcareous microfossil) analyses focussed on the sedimentary sequence associated with the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods.

 

This talk summarises the radiocarbon results and associated multiproxy analyses for the sedimentary sequence. Radiocarbon dating has identified a sequence dating back to the Mesolithic period (7.6ky BP). Microfossil evidence indicates hydroseral succession has taken place, with  the initial establishment of a freshwater lake, prior to undergoing terrestrialisation and eventually developing into a raised bog.

 

Holocene sea-level change also influenced the sedimentary archive. Due to a rise in relative sea level c. 6.7ky BP, subsequent coastal inundation and estuarine sedimentation took place, hereby associated with the Lower Wentlooge Formation of the Somerset Levels. Poor microfossil preservation was encountered within the section associated with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, but a clear picture of landscape change is presented for the sedimentary archive, with microfossil and microscopic charcoal evidence indicative of landscape modification by humans since the late Mesolithic.

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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Dr Mark Wilson – Professor of Natural Sciences and Geology, The College of Wooster, Ohio, USA

 

Earth Sciences Seminar Room

 

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

 

24th June - 4.00 pm

 

The rocks of the marine Callovian sections (around 164 million years old) in southern Israel give us a rare look at tropical invertebrate faunas in the Jurassic. The Matmor Formation in particular is rich in sponges, corals, bryozoans, molluscs, and echinoderms. In the past decade many new taxa have been described from the unit, allowing us to begin comparing temperate and tropical Jurassic communities. These fossils are abundant and well preserved in a detailed stratigraphic framework. They represent an important assemblage for studying the evolution and biogeography of Jurassic invertebrates.

 

More information on attending seminars at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/news-events/seminars/

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The Palaeontographical Society – 8th Annual Address

 

Dr Richard Edmonds (Jurassic Coast Heritage Centre) - "The Jurassic Coast: fossils, history, value, and management".

 

Wednesday 16th April – 4 pm (following immediately from the AGM).

 

Flett Lecture Theatre, The Natural History Museum, London

 

Tea and coffee from 3:30 pm.

 

Free to attend – all welcome.

 

The Dorset and East Devon coast was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2001 on the grounds that it contains the most complete and continuous exposure of sedimentary rocks through the Mesozoic anywhere in the world. Those rocks record virtually one third of the evolution of life including the age of the reptiles. These interests are maintained by erosion which itself forms the third element of the Outstanding Universal Value of the Site, being superlative examples of coastal processes from spectacular landslides to a barrier beach and erosion along a concordant and discordant coast. The principle threat to the site is the construction of coastal defences and we support Natural England and work closely with coastal engineers to try to find pragmatic solutions where potential conflicts do arise.

 

The second area of work is the management of the fossil collecting interest along the coast. There is a long history of collecting and collectors have and continue to demonstrate their invaluable role in the recovery of fossils from the very process that exposes them, erosion. The fossils, particularly in West Dorset, are also a fabulous and sustainable resource to engage and excite the public in the Earth sciences and places such as the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and Lyme Regis Museum run regular and extremely popular guided walks which are enthusing younger generations.

 

Our approach to collecting is based on the national guidance provided by Natural England, one of responsible collecting. We have developed that approach through the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct and also benefited from Heritage Lottery funded projects such as Collecting Cultures, which has helped enhance museum collections and secure specimens of great scientific importance. Our approach is not perfect and we do not claim that it is. The main issues is the acquisition of specimens of key scientific importance and this relates to funding, capacity within museums and differing ambitions between those parties involved and this will form the major part of the presentation.

 

http://www.palaeosoc.org/site/home/

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On the nature & causes of volcanism in the Galápagos archipelago

 

Tuesday 21st May - 4.00 pm - Mineralogy seminar room

 

Dr Sally A Gibson, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK. sally@esc.cam.ac.uk

 

Diversity appears to be key to understanding natural phenomena in the Galápagos archipelago. Whilst most associate this with the unusual creatures that inhabit the islands it is also true of their volcanic nature.

Historical perspective: The volcanic nature of Galápagos was based on reports of pirates, buccaneers and naval admirals until 1835, when Charles Darwin visited the archipelago during the Beagle voyage. Although widely regarded as a zoologist, Darwin was first and foremost a geologist and especially interested in the formation of volcanic islands. Whilst in Galápagos, most of his time was spent on James Island (now known as Santiago) and here he made a crucial observation regarding the occurrence of different volcanic rock types; he realised that confinement of low-density trachytes to elevated parts and higher-density basalts to lower slopes of the same volcano meant that different types of magma could form in ‘the body of a volcanic mountain’ by sinking of crystals. In this regard he was the first scientist to link the diversity of volcanic rock types to what we now refer to as crystal settling. Darwin’s theory of crystal sinking was published in 1844 but not widely accepted at the time.

 

21st Century importance: The Galápagos archipelago is a natural laboratory for Earth Scientists and provides a unique opportunity to test models of mantle melting. It is one of the world’s most volcanically active regions with eruptions of predominantly basaltic lavas occurring every 3 to 5 years. Galápagos is located above a mantle plume and adjacent to an oceanic spreading centre. Whilst the greatest volumes of melt occur in the west of the archipelago, close to the postulated axis of the plume, volcanism is widespread. There are no age-progressive linear relationships between activity and distance from the location of the present-day hotspot and no temporal variation in magma type as there is for example at Hawaii. The large geochemical dataset for recently erupted basalts and high-resolution seismic database allow greater constraints to be imposed on the causes of volcanism than for any other archipelago. Melt generation occurs both in the region of active mantle upwelling, which has a radius of ~100 km, and also where plume mantle is being dispersed laterally towards the adjacent spreading centre. The composition of erupted basalts is closely linked to the thickness of the underlying lithosphere: numerical modelling of geochemical and geophysical datasets has revealed that this is relatively thin (45 km) beneath the NE of the archipelago and allows the generation of tholeiitic basalts. Above the current zone of active plume upwelling the lithosphere is thicker (60 km) such that the amount of melting is lower and alkali basalts are generated. Isla Santiago is located in central Galápagos above the margin of the zone of active upwelling and also on the edge of the zone of thin lithosphere. The island is unique in that it has experienced recent eruptions of basaltic melts with extremely varied major- and trace-element and also isotopic compositions. This diversity is a manifestation of both complex physical processes and compositional variations in the underlying mantle plume.


For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Lorna Steel and collaborators have produced a paper that shows that modern-day killer whales are adapted to use the same hunting and feeding mechanisms as ancient crocodiles from more than a hundred million years ago.

 

They discovered that two crocodylians that grew to over 4m long and swam in Britain's shallow seas around 150 million years ago, were adapted to eat  prey similar to that of modern-day killer whales. Dakosaurus and Plesiosuchus both had robustly-built skulls and their anatomy indicates the capability to deliver great biting force.

 

journal.pone.0044985.g030.jpg

Reconstructions showing the maximum body lengths for the Geosaurini genera present in the late Kimmeridgian-early Tithonian of Western Europe. 

The species from top to bottom are: Geosaurus giganteus, Dakosaurus maximus, Torvoneustes carpenteri and Plesiosuchus manselii. The maximum known body lengths of Torvoneustes and Geosaurus are from Young et al. [14], while those of Dakosaurus and Plesiosuchus are from this paper. The human diver is 1.8 m in height. All metriorhynchid life reconstructions are by Dmitry Bogdanov.  From Young et al. (2012) Creative Commons Attribution License for image and caption.


 

What is of particular interest is the parallel with the two types of North Atlantic killer whale: one smaller type which eats mainly fish prey, often by suction, and which has extensive wear and breakage on the teeth. The second larger type has little tooth breakage and eats other cetaceans. 

 

In the ancient crocodylians, there is extensive evidence for a similar dichotomy - in short Plesiosuchus is larger and shows little dental wear, with a wide effective gape that allowed many teeth to come into contact with the prey, so likely to be a specialist feeding on other marine reptiles. Dakosaurus was smaller, with considerable tooth wear and a shortened tooth row, suggesting a more general diet of smaller prey and suction feeding.  This difference in prey helps to explain how two large predators coexisted by avoiding competition.



Young, M.T., Brusatte, S.L., Brandalise de Andrade, M., Desojo, J.B., Beatty, B.L., STEEL, L., Fernandez, M.S., Sakamoto, M., Ruiz-Omenaca, J.I., & Schoch, R., 2012. The Cranial Osteology and Feeding Ecology of the Metriorhynchid Crocodylomorph Genera Dakosaurus and Plesiosuchus from the Late Jurassic of Europe. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44985. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044985

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One-day meeting sponsored by the QRA, QUAVER, NERC and the NHM

Wednesday 19 September 2012, 10 am – 6 pm

Flett Theatre, Natural History Museum. 

 

Confirmed speakers:

 

Tony Stuart (Durham) – Megafaunal extinction and survival, with special reference to northern Eurasia

Adrian Lister (NHM) – Mammoth extinction, refugia, and the synergy of climate and people

John Stewart (Bournemouth) & Chris Stringer (NHM) – Range shifts and extinction of Neanderthals and other human populations in the Late Quaternary

Ian Barnes (Royal Holloway) - Applying ancient DNA to Late Quaternary extinctions

Judy Allen, Yvonne Collingham & Brian Huntley (Durham) – Modelling vegetation change and  Late Quaternary extinctions

Martin Street (Neuwied) – Implications of the Western and Central European Late Upper Palaeolithic archaeological record for Late Quaternary Extinctions

Sam Turvey (ZSL) & Susanne Fritz (Frankfurt)  – The ghosts of mammals past: global patterns of mammalian extinction during the Holocene

Jennifer Crees (Imperial): Large mammal extinctions in Holocene Europe: case closed?

Kenneth Rijsdijk (Amsterdam) & the Dodo Research Programme team - Climate induced mass mortality vs. human induced extinction: an interdisciplinary analysis of a dodo mass grave on Mauritius

Ben Collen, Lucie Bland & Martina Di Fonzo (ZSL) – Wildlife in a changing world: predicting how populations decline to extinction

Kate Jones (UCL) - Current and future extinctions: windows into the past

 

For full programme details and registration (required), please go to http://qra.org.uk/meetings/70

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Palaeontology Seminar

 

Tracking nautiloid migrational seaways: using pelagic faunas as a complementary tool for palaeogeographic reconstruction

 

Dr. Kathleen Histon, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia

 

Thursday 24th May
Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, 16:00

 

  

Documentation of the distribution and biodiversity of environmentally sensitive groups is an important element in palaeogeographical reconstruction. Establishment of the precise position, width and timing of open seaways is a pivotal factor in unravelling complex regional geodynamic histories. As nautiloid cephalopods are particularly sensitive to distance and water depth separating landmasses and to fluctuations in sea level they can be considered reliable tools for tracing migrational pathways of pelagic faunas during certain intervals. This complementary dataset can be utilized to confirm models regarding palaeocontinent/microterrane position based on the traditional use of distribution of benthonic faunas.

 

Detailed field studies on the cephalopod limestone biofacies from the almost complete biostratigraphically well constrained Silurian successions in the Carnic Alps (Austria) over the past decade have provided significant data regarding the relationship between sea-level change and faunal events for this middle palaeolatitude North Gondwanan microterrane during the Silurian. The response of various faunal groups to the eustatic changes identified on a local scale has been  compared and related to similar studies in progress from other North Gondwana terranes such as Sardinia and Bohemia and on a global scale with some sectors of Avalonia (the British Isles) and Laurentia (North America). The findings may also have critical relevance within the context of identification of nautiloid cephalopod bioevents and their relation to the dynamics of the global carbon cycle. Detailed studies in this respect for major groups such as nautiloids are lacking to date for the Silurian.

 

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Bryozoans are widespread aquatic colonial animals living both in the sea (sea mats) and fresh waters, with an extensive marine fossil record over almost 500 million years. Collaborating research groups in the NHM Departments of Zoology and Palaeontology represent arguably the strongest concentration of bryozoan research expertise anywhere in the world.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_026159_IA.jpg

 

Wilbertopora woodwardi (Brydone) from the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, Hampshire

 

Andrea Waeschenbach (NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Zoology), Paul Taylor (Palaeontology) and Tim Littlewood (Zoology) have had accepted for publication the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of bryozoans to date, using mitochondrial and ribosomal genes.

 

This has resulted in a well supported topology (the shape of the phylogenetic tree), providing unambiguous evidence for the interrelationship of the taxonomic classes.  It also provides strong evidence that several presently recognized taxonomic units at various hierarchical levels are each in fact of more than one origin in evolutionary terms - they are non-monophyletic (a monophyletic group has a single ancestor)

 

Using this topology, the work tried to establish the likely larval form and strategy of the ancestral bryozoans, but this gave ambiguous results.  It seems most likely that multiple shifts have occurred between different types of larval nutrition – dependency on yolk provided to the egg (lecithotrophy) and feeding by the bryozoan larva on phytoplankton (planktotrophy).

 

This result, combined with their long fossil record, promises bryozoans to be a suitable phylum to studying links between reproductive strategy and large scale evolutionary patterns, such as speciation rates. This paper is a significant contribution for assessing the interrelationships in a relatively neglected group that offers much promise as an evolutionary model. This work was funded by NERC (NE/E015298/1).

 

Waeschenbach, A., Taylor, P.D., Littlewood, D.T.J. (2011) A molecular phylogeny of bryozoans, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2011.11.011

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Mary Anning remains one of the most famous characters in the history of Palaeontology. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the specimen that started her career. To mark this anniversary this specimen—comprising the skull and some post cranial elements of Temnodontosaurus platydon—has been loaned to the Lyme Regis Museum. The specimen was the first discovery of a complete Ichthyosaur and was made by Mary Anning and her brother Joseph in 1811 in the 205 million year old Jurassic Blue Lias from cliffs nearby. Now after 200 years the gigantic skull has returned to Lyme Regis to the museum built on the site of Mary’s childhood home, on loan from The Natural History Museum (London).


Soon after it was found in the Anning family sold the ichthyosaur to Henry Hoste Henley of Colway Manor in Lyme for £23. From there it was sent to London, probably by sea where it was exhibited at William Bullock’s Museum of Natural Curiosities. In 1819 the specimen was purchased by the British Museum (at the time the British Museum was made up of what is now the Natural History Museum, the current British Museum and the British Library).  It is in the Natural History Museum that it is normally exhibited alongside a host of other marine reptile remains. The skull’s return to Lyme Regis for the first time in 200 years was overseen by Palaeontology staff Drs Martin Munt and Tim Ewin.

 

SiS ichthyo 8 2.jpg

Martin Munt, Tim Ewin, Chris Andrews and Paddy Howe


Carrying the heavy, two metre-long specimen up the curved staircase to the geology gallery at Lyme Regis Museum proved to be too difficult. So with concern for the specimen’s safety, not to mention the backs of the local geologists including Paddy Howe and Chris Andrews who had turned out to help with the installation, the decision was taken to place the specimen in the Social History Gallery on the Ground Floor. where it will be on display until the end of September 2011. The loan has been made possible due to a grant of £1,000 from Natural England and the financial support of The Natural History Museum.


As Dr Martin Munt noted “it has been a privilege to help Lyme Regis Museum achieve their dream of bringing home this iconic fossil specimen to mark the 200th anniversary of its discovery. This loan has been the outcome of over a year’s planning and was supported by former Director of Science Dr Richard Lane, Keeper of Palaeontology Prof. Norm MacLeod, with technical assistance provided by the Head of the Palaeontology Conservation Unit, Chris Collins.”

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Palaeontology Department Seminar

 

Thursday 1st September Neil Chalmers Seminar Room, DC2, 1600

 

Sampling, modelling, and making sense of the fossil record of diversity

 

Dr. Andrew B. Smith, Department of Palaeontology, NHM


While we can sample the available rock record effectively for its fossil content, the record we are sampling is itself biased.  Understanding and quantifying this bias is key to developing better estimates of diversity over time, and various ways of estimating rock record bias have been proposed.  Recent criticisms of these approaches by Benton and co-workers are shown to be misplaced or unfounded.

 

To demonstrate by how much the fossil record is distorted by unavoidable sampling inequality, the diversity of planktonic microfossil clades are estimated from two independent records – that of land-based outcrops and deep-sea cores.  These differ markedly, with each tracking its respective record of rock accessibility over time. However, modelling and subsampling approaches to the two very different records converge on a single underlying pattern, showing that these are powerful approaches for recovering less biased estimates of how past diversity has changed over geological time.

 

Contact: Greg Edgecombe g.edgecombe@nhm.ac.uk

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Greg Edgecombe in the Museum's Palaeontology Department has collaborated with Australian colleagues on the investigation of fossil eyes from the early Cambrian period (515 million years ago).  They published their findings in the prestigious journal Nature at the end of June.


The fossils were found in the Emu Bay shale - a very finely grained rock formed from mud - from Kangaroo Island in South Australia.  Shales can preserve fossil organisms in incredible detail, and those from the Cambrian have yielded an amazing diversity of invertebrate animals that lived in marine environments - those of the Burgess Shale in western Canada are probably the best known.  The Cambrian is of particular interest in evolutionary terms because it was a period at which many new groups of organisms are first seen - the term "Cambrian Explosion" is often used to describe the fantastic and rapid diversification of life in a relatively short geological period.


A fair amount is already known about the eyes of trilobites from this period - their eyes were biomineralized (containing minerals) which meant that the fossils are very well preserved.  However, Greg and his colleagues found fossil eyes that do not seem to have been mineralized - much more delicate structures that have only been preserved because of the exceptional nature of the shale fossils.


The eyes appear to be relatively similar to the compound eyes of modern arthropods - they are around 5-7 mm across and contain around 3,000 individual lenses (ommatidia).  The lenses in the centre of the eye are larger, with a falling gradient in size towards the edge of the eye - creating a bright zone for better sight in lower light.  This structure is characteristic of a modern mobile predator such as a robber fly - more advanced than those of trilobites and not seen in other fossils for a further 85 million years. This emphasises the apparent rapidity and complexity of evolution in this early period.

 

robber crop.jpg

The fossil eyes have similar characteristics to those of modern predatory arthropods such as this robber fly

 

However, a puzzle is that the eyes do not seem to be associated with any identifiable organism in the shale, such as Anomalocaris. It seems possible that the eyes may have been shed in moulting, but by which animal remains to be seen.


 

Lee, M. et al. 2011 Modern optics in exceptionally preserved eyes of Early Cambrian arthropods from Australia. Nature 30 June 2011 474 7353 631-634 http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10097

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Archaeopteryx - a bird?

Posted by John Jackson Aug 1, 2011

Archaeopteryx must be one of the most familar images associated with the origins and evolution of birds.  Famously, it was first described one hundred years ago in 1861 from a single feather in 150-million year old Jurasssic limestone from Solnhofen in Bavaria. 

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_041333_IAblog.jpg


The first skeletal fossil of Archaeopteryx was found in 1861 and purchased by the British Museum (part of which later became the Natural History Museum) for £700 in 1862.  This specimen was described by the then Superintendent of the Museum's Natural History Departments, Richard Owen, in 1863.  A further nine fossils have been found since then and are found in various museums. Although the first fossil found was of a feather, it is not now certain that the feather was from the same species as the body fossils. When first found, Archaeopteryx was uniquely important in showing the connection between birds and other reptiles - but since  then, evidence from many other fossils has supported the scientific view  of the origins of birds.


These fossils have traditionally been seen as those of a very early bird at the very base of the current avian branch of the Tree of Life.  The birds emerged by the evolution and diversification of a group of reptiles in the late Jurassic period - just over 161 million years ago. From a current scientific viewpoint, the basal group of reptiles - the Paraves - split to form two groups: the Avialae (becoming birds over time); and the Deinonychosauria. 


However, a new paper in the journal Nature by Xing Xu et al. has involved examination of a newly discovered fossil species from this group, Xiaotingia, from China.  This organism was very similar to Archaeopteryx and the question arose of whether Archaeopteryx should be placed in the Avialae or the Deinonychosauria: which branch? Systematic scientific investigation of several Archaeopteryx fossils, Xiaotingia, and other fossils, suggests initially that Achaeopteryx does not fall into the same group as the birds - the Avialae. This involved examination of the NHM Archaeopteryx, illustrating the importance of collections as a continuing reference resource for science.


The research suggests that Archaeopteryx is not an ancestral bird in the Avialae, but should instead be seen as a member of the Deinonychosauria, along with Xiaotingia.  This finding will cause considerable controversy in science as results are scrutinised and discussed and further evidence amassed.  Future fossil findings will add further data that may add detail and support for different positions, but reference to the original fossils will continue to be essential.  One point of interest will be that the characteristic feathers and skeleton of Archaeopteryx show that this character combination may not have been restricted to birds alone, but seems to have been found in a wider group of reptiles.

 

Witmer L M Palaeontology: An icon knocked from its perch Nature 475, 458–459 (28 July 2011) doi:10.1038/475458a Published online 27 July 2011


Xing Xu,Hailu You,Kai Du & Fenglu Han An Archaeopteryx-like theropod from China and the origin of Avialae Nature 475, 465–470 (28 July 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10288 Published online 27 July 2011




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Paul Barrett is the 2011 recipient of the Bicentenary Medal of the Linnean Society, an organisation that promotes all branches of natural history, including botany and zoology.

 

Paul does research on dinosaurs but is also heavily involved in working with public audiences through exhibitions, media and other routes.

 

Barrett.jpg

 

The medal is awarded annually in recognition of work done by a biologist under the age of 40 years, and it was first awarded in 1978 on the 200th anniversary of the death of Carl Linnaeus. The award was presented at the Linnean Society anniversary meeting in Burlington House, London, in May.

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The NHM has just completed an Ancient DNA Lab Project (aDNA), to convert a lab in the Palaeontology Department into a state of the art dedicated aDNA laboratory.  This will enable specimens will be sampled, prepared, and DNA extracted, before analysis in the Museum’s specialist sequencing facility.

 

DNA is nowadays easily analysed from tissue taken from organisms while alive, taking steps to preserve the tissue for analysis – such as freezing in liquid nitrogen.  However, once an organism has died, its tissues and the DNA that they contain decay and break down in most cases. 

 

Research in recent years makes analysis of ancient material possible, extracting DNA from teeth or bones in most cases and using advanced techniques to piece together information on the fragments. A specialist laboratory is essential to avoid contamination by modern DNA. The Museum's existing molecular laboratories for modern DNA provide facilities for a wide range of research projects but are not able to support research on the distant past.

 

One example of current interest in the Museum is the work of Professor Adrian Lister and colleagues, working on the DNA of woolly mammoth populations to examine patterns of distribution and extinction in past environments.

 

NaturalHistoryMuseum_006266_IA.jpg

 

The new lab is an important addition to the Museum’s science infrastructure and as a necessary compliment to the current molecular facilities. This lab is intended to attract both internal and external researchers to make use of the NHM collections and address priorities identified by major funding bodies. It will also allow the training of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers in ancient DNA methods and protocols.

 

A few natural history museums (such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the Copenhagen  Natural History  Museum) already undertake aDNA work as part of the research programmes of scientific staff, post-doctoral research assistants, and students. However, none has a dedicated, in-house, locally managed laboratory facility that serves as an institution-wide focus for aDNA research.

 

The laboratory will establish the NHM as having probably the most advanced such facility of any major natural history museum. The mere fact that aDNA sampling and extraction procedures can be carried out at the NHM will be sufficient to make it, and its collections, an international focus of aDNA research.

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