Sunday, June 29, 2008

Died This Day: Thomas Huxley

May 4, 1825 - June 29, 1895

From the UC Berkeley Page:

Huxley was born in Ealing, near London, the seventh of eight children in a family that was none too affluent. At 21, Huxley signed on as assistant surgeon on the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, a Royal Navy frigate assigned to chart the seas around Australia and New Guinea. Huxley collected and studied marine invertebrates, in particular cnidarians, tunicates, and cephalopod mollusks. After leaving the Navy in 1854, Huxley managed to secure a lectureship at the School of Mines in London.

Huxley was a passionate defender of Darwin's theory -- so passionate that he has been called "Darwin's Bulldog" – and also a great biologist in his own right, who did original research in zoology and paleontology.

He is best known for his famous debate in June 1860, at the British Association meeting at Oxford. His opponent, Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce, was not-so-affectionately known as "Soapy Sam" for his renowned slipperiness in debate. During the debate, Archbishop Wilberforce ridiculed evolution and asked Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his grandmother's side or his grandfather's. Accounts vary as to exactly what happened next, but according to one telling of the story, Huxley muttered "The Lord hath delivered him into my hands," and then rose to give a brilliant defense of Darwin's theory, concluding with the rejoinder, "I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth."

All accounts agree that Huxley trounced Wilberforce in the debate, defending evolution as the best explanation yet advanced for species diversity.

However, Huxley did not blindly follow Darwin's theory, and critiqued it even as he was defending it. In particular, where Darwin had seen evolution and a slow, gradual, continuous process, Huxley thought that an evolving lineage might make rapid jumps, or saltations. As he wrote to Darwin just before publication of the Origin of Species, "You have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum [Nature does not make leaps] so unreservedly."

Huxley's most famous writing, published in 1863, is Evidence on Man's Place in Nature. This book, published only five years after Darwin's Origin of Species, was a comprehensive review of what was known at the time about primate and human paleontology and ethology. More than that, it was the first attempt to apply evolution explicitly to the human race. Huxley explicitly presented evidence for human evolution.

Huxley founded a remarkable dynasty of English scientists and thinkers. His son Leonard was a noted biographer and "man of letters." Leonard's oldest son Julian was one of the authors of the evolutionary synthesis of the early 20th century; Julian's son Francis became a noted anthropologist. Julian's brother Aldous Huxley was a novelist, screenwriter and essayist; his best-known book is the anti-utopia Brave New World.

[ a palaeoblog autopost]

Happy Birthday to Ray Harryhausen

Visit Ray's official site.

[a palaeoblog autopost]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Drumheller IGA T. rex Is Back

The newly repainted T. rex has reappeared on the IGA here in Drumheller.

I'm finishing up my week here at the RTMP editing the 'Horned Dino' book, and will be off shortly to southern Alberta with a big crew for the month of July.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fedex Caveman

This is old news now, but I just saw it thanks to Don C. and had to share it. I'm almost in the field....!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Off To The Field: Stay Tuned For Updates

It's that time of year again gentle readers...

I'm all packed...

and off for another exciting summer of field work.

What could possibly go wrong?
Of course I'll post intermittently as access to the 'net allows, and post field photos from time to time. I'll be out of the office from about now until the end of Sept(!). Have a good summer!

New Discovery Proves Selfish Gene Exists

Four QTLs that Influence Worker Sterility in the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). 2008. P.R. Oxley et al. Genetics Published Ahead of Print: June 18, 2008, Copyright © 2008.

(note the price on this 'comic' book!)
A new discovery provides conclusive evidence which supports decades-old evolutionary doctrines long accepted as fact.
From the press release:

Since renowned British biologist Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion") introduced the concept of the 'selfish gene' in 1976, scientists the world over have hailed the theory as a natural extension to the work of Charles Darwin.

In studying genomes, the word 'selfish' does not refer to the human-describing adjective of self-centered behavior but rather to the blind tendency of genes wanting to continue their existence into the next generation. Ironically, this 'selfish' tendency can appear anything but selfish when the gene does move ahead for selfless and even self-sacrificing reasons.

For instance, in the honey bee colony, a complex social breeding system described as a 'super-organism,' the female worker bees are sterile. The adult queen bee, selected and developed by the worker bees, is left to mate with the male drones.

Because the 'selfish' gene controlling worker sterility has never been isolated by scientists, the understanding of how reproductive altruism can evolve has been entirely theoretical, until now.

Researchers have, for the first time-ever, isolated a region on the honey bee genome that houses this 'selfish' gene in female workers bees. This means that the 'selfish' gene does exist, not just in theory but in reality. "We don't know exactly which gene it is, but we're getting close."

Indy Gets The Paper

© Pete Von Sholly
Apparently Pete Von Sholly did not think much of the latest Indy flick...

Gryposaurus: #2 With A Bullet

Something called the “International Institute for Species Exploration” at Arizona State University has listed their top ten new species for 2007. Coming in at #2 is Gryposaurus monumentensis.

The Palaeoblog needs one of them new-fangled institutes, too.

The Amphioxus Genome

The amphioxus genome and the evolution of the chordate karyotype. 2008. N. H. Putnam et al. Nature 453: 1064-1071.

The newly sequenced genome of the lancelet (amphioxus) provides the evidence that vertebrates evolved over the past 550 million years through a four-fold duplication of the genes of more primitive ancestors.
From the press release:

“amphioxus and humans had a common ancestor 550 million years ago, which allows us to use amphioxus as a surrogate for that ancestor in terms of understanding how vertebrate genomes evolved. If you compare the 23 chromosomes of humans with the 19 chromosomes of amphioxus, you find that both genomes can be expressed in terms of 17 ancestral pieces. So, we can say with some confidence that 550 million years ago, the common ancestor of amphioxus and humans had 17 chromosomal elements.”

Each of those 17 ancestral segments was duplicated twice in the evolution of vertebrates, after which most of the routine "housekeeping" genes lost the extra copies. Those left, totaling a couple thousand genes, found new functions that make us different from all other creatures.

"These few thousand genes have been retooled to make humans more elaborate than their simpler ancestors. They are involved in setting up the body plan of an animal and differentiating different parts of the animal. The hypothesis, pretty strongly supported by this data, is that the multiplication of this particular kind of gene and differentiation into different functions was important in the formation of vertebrates as we know them."

The researchers are trying to reconstruct what happened at the end of the Cambrian period 550 million years ago, when a creature similar to the lancelet evolved and diverged into three types of chordates: cephalocordates like the lancelet; urochordates like the sea squirt; and vertebrates like us. Cephalocordates and urochordates are invertebrates that have a flexible notochord rather than a bony spine protecting their spinal cord.

Interestingly, the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis, a tunicate, was previously thought to belong to the the earliest chordate lineage because of the sea squirt's very simple body plan. Comparison of the lancelet, sea squirt and human genomes, however, show instead that the lancelet lineage diverged before the tunicates and vertebrates.

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Data On Psittacosaurus major

New data on cranial anatomy of the ceratopsian dinosaur Psittacosaurus major. 2008. H.−L. You et al. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 53: 183-196

Abstract [edit]: An exceptionally preserved skull and mandible of the ceratopsian dinosaur Psittacosaurus major revealed the existence of an elliptical median interpremaxillary foramen, a prominent neurovascular canal on the internal wall of the beak, long, slightly divergent basipterygoid processes developed as vertical blades with a deep cleft between them, and horizontally oriented vomer.

The new specimen shows two autapomorphies of P. major, the transversely narrow dorsal skull roof and very prominent dentary flanges, confirming the presence of two large−skulled psittacosaur species in the Lujiatun Bed of the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation in Beipiao City, western Liaoning Province, China, the long− and narrow−skulled P. major, and broad−skulled P. lujiatunensis.

As always, the PDF is a free download from APP.

Born This Day: George Gaylord Simpson

June 16, 1902 - Oct 6, 1984.
"Life is the most important thing about the world, the most important thing about life is evolution. Thus, by consciously seeking what is most meaningful, I moved from poetry to mineralogy to paleontology to evolution." G.G. Simpson
From the web site supporting the excellent PBS show “Evolution”:

As one of the founders of the "modern synthesis" of evolution, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson argued that the fossil record supports Darwin's theory that natural selection acting on random variation in a population is the driving force behind evolution. Simpson was among the first to use mathematical methods in paleontology, and he also took into account newly discovered genetic evidence for evolution in his study of paleontology.

In his 1944 book, Tempo and Mode in Evolution, Simpson divided evolutionary change into "tempo," the rate of change, and "mode," the manner or pattern of change, with tempo being a basic factor of mode. Simpson saw paleontology, revealing the long history of life on earth, as a unique field through which to study the history of evolution.

The early part of the twentieth century saw evolutionary theory embattled by disagreements over Darwin's emphasis on natural selection. The then-newly rediscovered work of Gregor Mendel in the nineteenth century was an uncomfortable fit with evolution, as many scientists saw it. They weren't at all certain that natural populations contained enough genetic variation for natural selection to create new species. So they entertained other explanations, including inheritance of acquired characteristics, "directed" variation toward a goal, or sudden large mutations that resulted in new species.

In the field of paleontology, the scientist who did most to resolve these questions was George Gaylord Simpson, who was on the staff of the American Museum of Natural History for 30 years.At a time when other paleontologists were convinced that the fossil record could best be explained by directed variation, Simpson disagreed. He said that fossil patterns needed no mystical or goal-oriented processes to explain them. For example, where others saw the modern horse as having arisen in a single advance toward the specialized form, Simpson saw the path as that of an irregular tree that had many side-branches leading off to extinction.

Simpson argued that the evolution of mammals, as seen in their fossilized remains, fit perfectly well with the new mechanisms of population genetics being studied at the time. He used the then-new mathematical methods to clarify how evolution occurred in "gene pools" in populations, not in individual members of the population.

Importantly, he showed that gaps in the fossil record reflected periods of substantial change through rapid "quantum evolution" in small populations, leaving little fossil evidence behind. At other times, he observed, rates of change could be so slow as to seem almost nonexistent.

Read more about Simpson HERE.

Ebb & Flow of Seas Drives Mass Extinctions

Environmental determinants of extinction selectivity in the fossil record. 2008. S. E. Peters. Nature advance online publication 15 June 2008.
A new study suggests that the epic ebbs and flows of sea level and sediment over the course of geologic time is the primary cause of the world's periodic mass extinctions during the past 500 million years.
From the (mostly uninformative) press release:

Since the advent of life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago, scientists think there may have been as many as 23 mass extinction events, many involving simple forms of life such as single-celled microorganisms. During the past 540 million years, there have been five well-documented mass extinctions, primarily of marine plants and animals, with as many as 75-95 percent of species lost.

The new study is striking because it establishes a clear relationship between the tempo of mass extinction events and changes in sea level and sediment. Peters measured two principal types of marine shelf environments preserved in the rock record, one where sediments are derived from erosion of land and the other composed primarily of calcium carbonate, which is produced in-place by shelled organisms and by chemical processes. "The physical differences between (these two types) of marine environments have important biological consequences," Peters explains, noting differences in sediment stability, temperature, and the availability of nutrients and sunlight.

In the course of hundreds of millions of years, the world's oceans have expanded and contracted in response to the shifting of the Earth's tectonic plates and to changes in climate. There were periods of the planet's history when vast areas of the continents were flooded by shallow seas, such as the shark- and mosasaur-infested seaway that neatly split North America during the age of the dinosaurs.

As those epicontinental seas drained, animals such as mosasaurs and giant sharks went extinct, and conditions on the marine shelves where life exhibited its greatest diversity in the form of things like clams and snails changed as well.

a, Total number of genera. b, Per-capita, per-interval extinction rates. Error bars show 95% binomial confidence limits. Major mass extinctions are labelled (O/S, end-Ordovician; D, late-Devonian; P/T, end-Permian; Tr/J, end-Triassic; K/Pg, end-Cretaceous). O, Ordovician; S, Silurian; D, Devonian; C, Carboniferous; P, Permian; Tr, Triassic; J, Jurassic; K, Cretaceous; Pg, Palaeogene; Ng, Neogene. Myr ago, million years ago.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Megaraptor-like Ulna Found In Australia

A Megaraptor-like theropod (Dinosauria: Tetanurae) in Australia: support for faunal exchange across eastern and western Gondwana in the Mid-Cretaceous. 2008. N. smith et al. Proc Royal Soc. B.

Abstract: The fossil record of Australian dinosaurs in general, and theropods in particular, is extremely sparse. Here we describe an ulna from the Early Cretaceous Eumeralla Formation of Australia that shares unique autapomorphies with the South American theropod Megaraptor. We also present evidence for the spinosauroid affinities of Megaraptor.

This ulna [Fig. d, below] represents the first Australian non-avian theropod with unquestionable affinities to taxa from other Gondwanan landmasses, suggesting faunal interchange between eastern and western Gondwana during the Mid-Cretaceous. This evidence counters claims of Laurasian affinities for Early Cretaceous Australian dinosaur faunas, and for the existence of a geographical or climatic barrier isolating Australia from the other Gondwanan continents during this time.

The temporal and geographical distribution of Megaraptor and the Eumeralla ulna is also inconsistent with traditional palaeogeographic models for the fragmentation of Gondwana, but compatible with several alternative models positing connections between South America and Antarctica in the Mid-Cretaceous.

Right theropod ulnae in lateral aspect. (a) Suchomimus tenerensis, MNN GAD 500; (b) Allosaurus fragilis, YPM 4944, left ulna reversed for comparison; (c) Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, MUCPv 341; (d), cf. Megaraptor, NMV P186076, left ulna reversed for comparison; (e) Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, MCF-PVPH 79; (f) Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, interpretive drawing of MCF-PVPH 79. Scale bars = 50 mm.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Earliest Genetic Material Come From The Stars

Extraterrestrial nucleobases in the Murchison meteorite. 2008. Z.Martins et al. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Sunday 15 June 2008.

Art © Bill Stout
Scientists have confirmed for the first time that an important component of early genetic material which has been found in meteorite fragments is extraterrestrial in origin.
From the press release:

The finding suggests that parts of the raw materials to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA may have come from the stars. The scientists say that their research provides evidence that life's raw materials came from sources beyond the Earth.

The materials they have found include the molecules uracil and xanthine, which are precursors to the molecules that make up DNA and RNA, and are known as nucleobases. The team discovered the molecules in rock fragments of the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in Australia in 1969.

The analysis shows that the nucleobases contain a heavy form of carbon which could only have been formed in space. Materials formed on Earth consist of a lighter variety of carbon.

"We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoritic fragments for use in genetic coding which enabled them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations."

Between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago large numbers of rocks similar to the Murchison meteorite rained down on Earth at the time when primitive life was forming. The heavy bombardment would have dropped large amounts of meteorite material to the surface on planets like Earth and Mars.

"Because meteorites represent left over materials from the formation of the solar system, the key components for life -- including nucleobases -- could be widespread in the cosmos. As more and more of life's raw materials are discovered in objects from space, the possibility of life springing forth wherever the right chemistry is present becomes more likely."

Friday, June 13, 2008

BC Dino May Be New Species

An ornithischian dinosaur from the Sustut Basin, north-central British Columbia, Canada. 2008. V. Arbour and M.C. Graves. CJES 45: 457-463.

Victoria in the Gobi, 2007
A partial dinosaur skeleton unearthed in 1971 from a remote British Columbia site is the first ever found in Canadian mountains and may represent a new species, according to a recent examination by a University of Alberta researcher.
From the press release:

Discovered by a geologist in the Sustut Basin of north-central British Columbia 37 years ago, the bones, which are about 70 million years old, were tucked away until being donated to Dalhousie University in 2004 and assigned to then-undergraduate student Victoria Arbour to research as an honours project. She soon realized that the bones were a rare find: they are very well-preserved and are the most complete dinosaur specimen found in B.C. to date. They are also the first bones found in B.C.'s Skeena mountain range.

"There are similarities with two other kinds of dinosaurs, although there's also an arm bone we've never seen before. The Sustut dinosaur may be a new species, but we won't know for sure until more fossils can be found," said Arbour, who finished researching the bones while studying for her master's degree at the University of Alberta. "It's very distinct from other dinosaurs that were found at the same time in southern Alberta."

The seven shin, arm, toe and possible skull bones were found nestled in a dip between mountains in the Skeena range, and while the fragments resemble those from a small two-legged, plant-eating dinosaur, the rest of the creature's identity is a mystery, Arbour says.

The fossils are currently in the collection of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria and Arbour hopes to lead a U of A team to the site for future investigation.

Victoria: please send me a PDF - CJES only allows free PDF downloads to Canadian IP addresses!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Unraveling The Woolly Mammoth Genome

Intraspecific phylogenetic analysis of Siberian woolly mammoths using complete mitochondrial genomes. 2008. M. Thomas et al. PNAS published June 9, 2008. [An open access article]

Art © Frank Frazetta
A large genetic study of the extinct woolly mammoth has revealed that the species was not one large homogenous group, as scientists previously had assumed, and that it did not have much genetic diversity.
From the press release:

The population was split into two groups, then one of the groups died out 45,000 years ago, long before the first humans began to appear in the region. This discovery is particularly interesting because it rules out human hunting as a contributing factor, leaving climate change and disease as the most probable causes of extinction.

The research marks the first time scientists have dissected the structure of an entire population of extinct mammal by using the complete mitochondrial genome -- all the DNA that makes up all the genes found in the mitochondria structures within cells.

The scientists analyzed the genes in hair obtained from individual woolly mammoths -- an extinct species of elephant adapted to living in the cold environment of the northern hemisphere. The bodies of these mammoths were found throughout a wide swathe of northern Siberia. Their dates of death span roughly 47,000 years, ranging from about 13,000 years ago to about 60,000 years ago.

Another important finding for understanding the extinction processes is that the individuals in each of the two woolly-mammoth groups were related very closely to one another. "This low genetic divergence is surprising because the woolly mammoth had an extraordinarily wide range: from Western Europe, to the Bering Strait in Siberia, to Northern America," Miller said.

The study also suggests a genetic divergence of the two woolly-mammoth groups more than 1-million years ago, which is one quarter the genetic distance that separates Indian and African elephants and woolly mammoths. The diversity of the two woolly-mammoth populations was as low centuries ago as it is now in the very small populations of Asian elephants living in southern India.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Radioisotopic Date For The Two Medicine Formation

Geochemical characterization of bentonite beds in the Two Medicine Formation (Campanian, Montana), including a new 40Ar/39Ar age. 2008. B.Z. Foreman et al. Cretaceous Research 29: 373-385.

Abstract: Terrestrial deposits of the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Two Medicine Formation of northwestern Montana preserve multiple bentonite beds (n ≥ 19) that reflect recurrent pyroclastic events in the Western Interior Basin. Major and trace element concentrations were determined on 27 samples derived from four bentonites using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

This study evaluates the potential for geochemically distinguishing three of these bentonite beds using a stepwise discriminant analysis of trace element concentrations. Seven elements were found sufficient to establish 100% classification in the group matrix. The elements (in order of decreasing contribution to the canonical discriminant functions) are Zr, Sc, V, Cr, U, Ga, and Th.

The validity of these results is strongly supported by cross-validation methods that correctly assigned 100% of randomly-selected bentonite samples left out of the stepwise analysis to their correct bed. These findings indicate geochemical discrimination is a viable tool for correlation within the formation and suggests its application to more distant coeval strata.

We also report here a new 40Ar/39Ar ageAr age of 77.52 ± 0.19 Ma for one of the analyzed bentonite beds. This new radioisotopic age affords insights into the timing of regional eruptive events, and further constrains the age of the Two Medicine Formation and its renowned fossil resources.

Finally, the inferred magmatic composition of the original ash (based on trace element compositions) from the two older bentonites beds suggest a source in the Elkhorn Mountain Volcanics whereas the younger bentonites may have been sourced from the Adel Mountain Volcanics.

This is more for folks like me that are very interested in the Two Medicine Formation.

Happy Birthday: E.O. Wilson

Wilson is an American biologist noted for founding the science of sociobiology. In his book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) he argued that all human behavior, including altruism, is genetically based, and therefore “selfish.”

Wilson's On Human Nature (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize; Biophilia (1984) suggests that human attraction to other living things is innate; and Consilience (1998) urges wider integration of the sciences. Other books by Wilson are Insect Societies (1971), The Diversity of Life (1992), The Ants, with Bert Hölldobler (1990; Pulitzer Prize), and The Future of Life (2002).

Monday, June 09, 2008

Born This Day: WIlliam J. Arkell

June 9, 1904 - April 18, 1958.

From Today In Science History:

Arkell was an English paleontologist who was an authority on Jurassic ammonites and their environments. He wrote Jurassic Geology of the World (1956), which critically reviewed the information dispersed throughout the world's enormous literature on the world's Jurassic stratigraphy.

He made numerous contributions to knowledge of the Jurassic stratigraphy, and gradually stabilized many stratigraphically significant zonal assemblages. In 1946, his "Standard of the European Jurassic" advocated a commission formulate a code of rules for stratigraphical nomenclature. image

Sunday, June 08, 2008

245 Million Year Old Tetrapod Burrows Found In Antarctica

Christian Sidor in Allan Hills, Antarctica, Jan. 2006.Cara Fritz/OSU
For the first time paleontologists have found fossilized burrows of tetrapods in Antarctica dating from the Early Triassic epoch, about 245 million years ago.
From the press release:

The fossils were created when fine sand from an overflowing river poured into the animals' burrows and hardened into casts of the open spaces. The largest preserved piece is about 35 cm long, 15 cm wide and 7 cm deep. No animal remains were found inside the burrow casts, but the hardened sediment in each burrow preserved a track made as the animals entered and exited. In addition, scratch marks from the animals' initial excavation were apparent in some places.

"We've got good evidence that these burrows were made by land-dwelling animals rather than crayfish," said Sidor. Despite the absence of fossil bones, the burrows' relatively small size suggests that their owners might have been small lizard-like procolophonids or an early mammal relative called Thrinaxodon.

Burrows, some containing tetrapod bones, have previously been excavated in South Africa, which is considered to be perhaps the world's richest fossil depository, and those burrows are nearly identical to the fossils unearthed in Antarctica. During the Triassic period, Antarctica and South Africa were connected as part of a supercontinent called Pangea.

At the time the burrows were dug, Antarctica would have been ice free. However temperatures still would have been quite cold, since both areas where the burrows were found are within the Antarctic Circle and so experience at least one day a year of complete darkness.

To be published in the June edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Born This Day: Francis Crick

June 8, 1916 – July 28, 2004

From Today In Science History:

Crick was a British biophysicist, who, with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, received the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their determination of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chemical substance ultimately responsible for hereditary control of life functions.

Crick and Watson began their collaboration in 1951, and published their paper on the double helix structure on April 2, 1953 in Nature. This accomplishment became a cornerstone of genetics and was widely regarded as one of the most important discoveries of 20th-century biology.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Happy Birthday To Mark Schultz

Xenozoic! & Xenozoic Tales © Mark Schultz

Jack Horner Brings Mobile GeoChem Lab To Montana.

Scientists who dig dinosaurs in Eastern Montana will now be able to chemically analyze fossils the same day they're excavated and before degrading begins.
The lab is the first of its kind and a dream come true, said Mary Higby Schweitzer, a North Carolina paleontologist who obtained the lab with Jack Horner, who is the Ameya Preserve curator of paleontology at MSU's Museum of the Rockies.

From the press release:

"This will be the first ever analytical molecular paleontology lab dedicated to doing analysis of this type on site," Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer's hypothesis is that fossils can stay deep in the ground for 68 million years and because they are in equilibrium with their sandstone environment, they can remain in nearly their original state with soft tissues preserved. It was a deep sandstone environment that preserved the soft tissue Schweitzer discovered a few years ago in the specimen "MOR 1125," dubbed B. Rex, found near Jordan, Mont. Schweitzer also found tissue that showed the Tyrannosaurus rex was an egg-laying female. Her revolutionary discoveries received international attention for what they suggested about fossil preservation.

Degradation began, however, as soon as field crews removed fossils from the ground and disrupted their equilibrium, Schweitzer said. Changing conditions and exposure to microbes all affected the fossils' condition.

To get a jump on the process and document it as it progresses, NC State provided funding for Schweitzer to purchase the lab and deliver it to MSU. The Museum of the Rockies then paid to adapt the lab for paleontology research. Horner paid for the renovations with money from Colorado Energy Management, which represented an anonymous donor, and Nathan Myrhvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft.

Almost half of the semi-truck contains a clean laboratory that will require users to don lab coats, lab shoes, gloves and hairnets before entering, Schweitzer said. The rest of the truck contains microscopes, work stations and a computer. Next year, it may also contain a scanning electron microscope and mass spectrometer with analytical capabilities. The entire truck has electricity, air conditioning and heating. It has room underneath for wastewater, diesel fuel and gear.

Along with the lab comes a new way of excavation, Horner said. This summer, instead of painstakingly removing sediment and rock from fossils, then stabilizing the fossils with plaster, the paleontologists will use cranes to remove two duckbill skeletons from Bureau of Land Management property. The workers will remove entire skeletons and encase them -- sediment and all -- in metal frames.

Born This Day: William Daniel Conybeare

June 7, 1787 - August 12, 1857.

From Today In Science History:
Conybeare was an English clergyman, geologist and paleontologist, known for his classic work, with co-author, William Phillips, on the stratigraphy of the Carboniferous (280-345 million years ago) System in England and Wales, Outline of the Geology of England and Wales (1822), one of the most influential textbooks on stratigraphy of the period.

He also described and reconstructed saurian fossils from the Lyme Regis area of England. He wrote the first monograph on the ichthyosaur, drawing it as a lizard with paddle-like limbs. In 1821 he described the skeleton of the plesiosaurus. As a friend and collaborator of William Buckland, Conybeare was an influential member of the Oxford School of Geology. portrait

Friday, June 06, 2008



Back in '70's when National Lampoon was the cutting-edge humour mag on the newstands (back before the The Onion and the Web), Rick Meyerowitz and Henry Beard dreamed up "The Dodosaurs". Many VP's of a certain vintage will have their 1983 book of the same name still on their bookshelves, although probably crushed to the back or living with the dust bunnies in an old box of unpacked books.

This is a later revisit to that concept that I found in the back of an old file I was throwing out. Really, it was funny at the time....

Thursday, June 05, 2008

New Fossil Kangaroo

A new fossil kangaroo from the Oligocene-Miocene Etadunna Formation of Ngama Quarry, Lake Palankarinna, South Australia. 2008. B. P. Kear and N. S. Pledge. Australian Journal of Science 55: 331-339.

From Perth Now:

Newly discovered Ngamaroo archeri, described byhe fossils Ben Kear and his colleague Neville Pledge of the South Australian Museum reveal an animal which was the size of a modern-day wallaby, which moved like a modern kangaroo.

The rare find, unearthed in 1981 near the Lake Eyre Basin in central Australia, suggests the incredible resilience and flexibility of the kangaroo in the face of constant environmental change, researchers say.

New analysis techniques using more comprehensive data has revealed the kangaroo’s evolutionary history, and scientists say the kangaroo’s success can be attributed to its ability to hop.

“Compared to how much other Australian mammal groups have changed in that time span, it shows that our hopping kangaroo really is a great survivor,” Dr Kear said.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cladistic Analysis of Humans

Cladistic analysis of continuous modularized traits provides phylogenetic signals in Homo evolution. Rolando González-José, et al. Nature 453: 775-778

a, Single tree obtained by equal weighted maximum-parsimony analysis based on morphological data of four cranial morphological modules. Bremer support values are displayed, as well as a numeric label for each node. The Bremer support values were determined by examination of the strict consensus of trees 0.01–0.12 steps longer than the shortest tree found for the data set. b, Single tree obtained by maximum likelihood. The ingroup (Homo specimens) and outgroups are displayed in purple and black respectively.
Abstract: Evolutionary novelties in the skeleton are usually expressed as changes in the timing of growth of features intrinsically integrated at different hierarchical levels of development. As a consequence, most of the shape-traits observed across species do vary quantitatively rather than qualitatively, in a multivariate space and in a modularized way. Because most phylogenetic analyses normally use discrete, hypothetically independent characters, previous attempts have disregarded the phylogenetic signals potentially enclosed in the shape of morphological structures.

When analysing low taxonomic levels, where most variation is quantitative in nature, solving basic requirements like the choice of characters and the capacity of using continuous, integrated traits is of crucial importance in recovering wider phylogenetic information. This is particularly relevant when analysing extinct lineages, where available data are limited to fossilized structures.

Here we show that when continuous, multivariant and modularized characters are treated as such, cladistic analysis successfully solves relationships among main Homo taxa. Our attempt is based on a combination of cladistics, evolutionary- development-derived selection of characters, and geometric morphometrics methods.

In contrast with previous cladistic analyses of hominid phylogeny, our method accounts for the quantitative nature of the traits, and respects their morphological integration patterns. Because complex phenotypes are observable across different taxonomic groups and are potentially informative about phylogenetic relationships, future analyses should point strongly to the incorporation of these types of trait.

Ancestral states corresponding to the first principal component of each trait, estimated as values across the principal component of each character, and visualized as deformation grids from the reference (the origin of the first principal component) towards the estimated principal component score of each node.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Born This Day: James Hutton

June 3, 1726 - March 26, 1797.

Hutton is considered to be the father of modern geology. He is accredited with proposing that observed geologic processes have been occurring at a uniform rate since the creation of earth, also know as the theory of unconformities. This led to his controversial suggestion that the earth is incredibly old.

Hutton began to notice geologic processes on his land in the 1750’s by following his soil during rainstorms when it would erode into the sea. He also noticed how long the process took and began to apply this idea to other parts of geology. If it took this long for some soil to move a few miles than how long did it take to form the cliffs by the sea? He also took note of other features in the landscape such as angular unconformities. A breakthrough point occurred for Hutton when he found Siccar’s Point. This site shows the build up of sediment over a long period of time as well as other geologic processes. It was this idea of continuous processes that fascinated Hutton for the rest of his life.

Hutton subsequently moved back to Edinburgh, and became very involved with the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1785 he had his friend Joseph Black read his lecture on his theories of earth. This was the first time that his full theory had been made public. He was met with much anger and rejection. Even though we take his ideas for granted today, at the time he was presenting this the oldest proposed age of earth was around six thousand years, as laid forth by the church. While he was able to convince a few by showing them prime field examples such as Glen Tilt and Siccar’s Point, for many it remained too radical an idea to consider.

Text modified from HERE. Image from HERE.

Monday, June 02, 2008

William Stout: Prehistoric Life Murals

This Fall Bill Stout will have a new book out, William Stout: Prehistoric Life Murals, available from Flesk Publications.

The title pretty much says it all, but I'd like to point your attention to the book's design (below), by Ace Designer, Randy Dahlk, that evokes those great old palaeo-books from the 50's.

Born This Day: Clair Cameron Patterson

June 2, 1922 - December 5, 1995

From Today In Science History:

Patterson was a U.S. geochemist who in 1953 made the first precise measurement of the Earth's age, 4.55 billion years. He is noted for providing the first reliable ages of the earth and meteorites (1962), using analysis of the isotopic compositions and concentrations of lead in terrestrial materials and meteorites.

He also established the patterns of isotopic evolution of lead on earth, by analysis of critical rocks, sediments and waters of the planet. Thus he created a powerful tool for identifying, tracing and evaluating the nature of the major geochemical reservoirs in the crust, mantle, and oceans.

Photo from HERE.

Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms

Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait. 2008. M.B. Berkman et al. PLoS Biol 6(5): e124

Click the title to download the PDF.

Thanks to Sukie for pointing this out to me!