Sunday, October 30, 2011

Born This Day: John William Dawson

Dawson (Oct. 30, 1820 - Nov. 20, 1899>) was a Canadian geologist who made numerous contributions to paleobotany and extended the knowledge of Canadian geology. Dawson was born and raised in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where the many sandstone and coal formations provided fertile ground for his first scientific explorations, which culminated in the publication of Acadian Geology. He made many important discoveries of fossil life, great and small. These included fossil plants, trackways of lowly invertebrates, footprints, skeletons of reptiles and amphibians, millipedes and the earliest land snails. When the famous geologist Charles Lyell visited coal deposits in Pictou, Dawson acted as his guide.

In 1851, Dawson and Lyell teamed up again to examine the interiors of fossil tree trunks at Joggins, Nova Scotia. They discovered the remains of some of the earliest known reptiles, Hylonomus lyelli, along with other rare fossils, propelling this part of the world into the international spotlight.

Dawson became principal of McGill College in Montreal in 1854, which he made into a reputable institution. He remained there, teaching geology and palaeontology and acting as librarian, until his retirement. One of his lifelong dreams was realized in 1882 when Peter Redpath gave money to McGill for the construction and establishment of a museum, naming Dawson as director. Today the Peter Redpath Museum of Natural History houses many specimens from Dawson's personal collection.

Info from HERE and HERE. Images from HERE and HERE.

Monday, October 24, 2011


"A sympathetic anthropologist (Joan Crawford!) uses drugs and surgery to try to communicate with a primitive troglodyte found living in a local cave."

Directed in 1970 by Hammer Films veteran, Freddie Francis, this was Crawford's last film. Notable for lifting the dinosaur scenes done by Willis H. O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen for the Irwin Allen-produced film The Animal World.

"After seeing this film, Joan Crawford supposedly joked that if it hadn't been for her end-of-life conversion to Christian Science, she might have committed suicide due to her embarrassment at having been in it." link

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Smaller Ka-Boom! Chicxulub Impact Did Not Cause Deccan Traps

Antipodal focusing of seismic waves due to large meteorite impacts on Earth. 2011. M. A. Meschede, et al. Geophysical Journal International 187: 529–537.

Researchers have simulated the meteorite strike that caused the Chicxulub crater in Mexico, an impact 2 million times more powerful than a hydrogen bomb that many scientists believe triggered the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The team's rendering of the planet showed that the impact's seismic waves would be scattered and unfocused, resulting in less severe ground displacement, tsunamis, and seismic and volcanic activity than previously theorized.

"We began by asking whether the meteorite that hit the Earth near Chicxulub could be connected to other late-Cretaceous mass-extinction theories. For example, there's a prominent theory that the meteorite triggered huge volcanic eruptions that changed the climate. These eruptions are thought to have originated in the Deccan Traps in India, approximately on the opposite side of the Earth from the Chicxulub crater at the time. Our measurements indicate that a Chicxulub-sized impact alone would be too small to cause such a large volcanic eruption as what occurred at the Deccan Traps.

"But our results go beyond Chicxulub. We can, in principle, now estimate how large a meteorite would have to have been to cause catastrophic events. For instance, we found that if you increase the radius of the Chicxulub meteorite by a factor of five while leaving its velocity and density the same, it would have been large enough to at least fracture rocks on the opposite side of the planet. Our model can be used to estimate the magnitude and effect of other major impacts in Earth's past. link

The Oldest Oxygen-Breathing Life On Land

Sea Devils © DC Comics
New research shows the first evidence that oxygen-breathing bacteria occupied and thrived on land 100 million years earlier than previously thought.
The researchers show the most primitive form of aerobic respiring life on land came into existence 2.48 billion years ago.

The research team made their find by investigating a link between atmospheric oxygen levels and rising concentrations of chromium in the rock of ancient sea beds. The researchers suggest that the jump in chromium levels was triggered by the land-based oxidization of the mineral pyrite.

Pyrite oxidation is driven by bacteria and oxygen. Aerobic bacteria broke down the pyrite, which released acid at an unprecedented scale. The acid then dissolved rocks and soils into a cocktail of metals, including chromium, which was transferred to the ocean by the runoff of rain water.

"This gives us a new date for the Great Oxidation Event, the time when the atmosphere first had oxygen," said Konhauser. "The rising levels of atmospheric oxygen fostered the evolution of new bacteria species that survived by aerobic respiration on land. link

Monday, October 17, 2011

Born This Day: Julie Adams

Julie starred as Kay Lawrence in The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). Adams has had a long career in films and TV, recently appearing on 'Lost'.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Born This Day: Giovanni Arduino

Arduino (Oct. 16, 1714 - March 21, 1795) was an Italian geologist, known as the father of Italian geology, who introduced the terms Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary in 1760 to classify four broad divisions of the Earth's rock surface, each earlier in deposition. Within each he recognized numerous minor strata, and had a clear paleontological interpretation of the age sequence of the fossil record.

The Primary order contained Paleozoic formations from the oldest, lowest basaltic rock from ancient volcanoes overlaid with metamorphic and sedimentary rocks which he saw in the Atesine Alps. He classified Mesozoic prealpine foothills as of the Secondary order, Tertiary in the subalpine hills and the Quaternary alluvial deposits in the plains. From Today In Science History

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Golden Age of Lasers

The Calgary-based band, The Forbidden Dimension, has a newly minted CD full of hot 'n spooky rock 'n roll tunes. Dino aficionados will recognize the Waterhouse Hawkins-inspired cover drawn by double threat musician/artist, Jackson Phibes, in this promo photo he sent me.

You can pick up a copy at all the better independent record shops (or you will be able to very soon), or you can order a copy from Saved By Vinyl.

Watch a live version of hit single, "Tor Johnston Mask" here.

Premiered This Day: Unknown Island

This 1948 film written by Robert T. Shannon and directed by Jack Bernhard features some of the worst ‘man dressed up as a T. rex’ effects ever. Not a bad little story though.

On This Day: Darwin Accepted Into Cambridge

In 1827, Charles Darwin was accepted into Christ's College at Cambridge, but did not start until winter term because he needed to catch up on some of his studies. A grandson of Erasmus Darwin of Lichfield, and of Josiah Wedgwood, he had entered the University of Edinburgh in 1825 to study medicine, intending to follow his father Robert's career as a doctor. However, Darwin found himself unenthusiastic about his studies, including that of geology.

Disappointing his family that he gave up on a medical career, he left Edinburgh without graduating in April 1827. His scholastic achievements at Cambridge were unremarkable, but after graduation. Today Cambridge has Darwin College, founded in 1964, for advanced study that only admits postgraduate students. From Today In Science History

Friday, October 14, 2011

Born This Day: Jack Arnold

Jack Arnold (Oct. 14, 1916 - March 17, 1992) directed a number of classic SF films including The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and It Came From Outer Space, as well as few not-so-classics (but still much loved) such as Monster on Campus. Throughout the ‘60’s and into the early 80’s he had a successful career as a TV producer and director.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Humans Descended From Ancestor With Sixth Sense*

Electrosensory ampullary organs are derived from lateral line placodes in bony fishes. 2011. M. S. Modrell, et al. Nature Communications 2: article #496.

The Shark © DC Comics**
A new study finds that the vast majority of vertebrates are descended from a common ancestor that had a well-developed electroreceptive system.

People experience the world through five senses but sharks and certain other aquatic vertebrates have a sixth sense: They can detect weak electrical fields in the water and use this information to detect prey, communicate and orient themselves.

This ancestor was probably a predatory marine fish with good eyesight, jaws and teeth and a lateral line system for detecting water movements, visible as a stripe along the flank of most fishes. It lived around 500 million years ago. The vast majority of the approximately 65,000 living vertebrate species are its descendants.

Using the Mexican axolotl as a model to represent the evolutionary lineage leading to land animals, and paddlefish as a model for the branch leading to ray-finned fishes, the researchers found that electrosensors develop in precisely the same pattern from the same embryonic tissue in the developing skin, confirming that this is an ancient sensory system. link

* Title from the actual press release.
**(Well, Pluto was a planet back in 1963.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Died This Day: Richard Denning

Denning (March 27, 1914 – Oct. 11, 1998) had a long career in Hollywood before moving into TV (notably Hawaii Five-O) in the 1960’s.

He had starring roles in a number of Sci-Fi flicks including Unknown Island (1948), Day the World Ended (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Black Scorpion (1957), but he takes a bow here for playing the greedy Dr. Mark Williams in 1954’s, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ichythosaur Vs. Kraken?

Triassic kraken: the Berlin ichthyosaur death assemblage interpreted as a giant cephalopod midden. 2011.M.A.S. McMenamin and S. McMenamin, 2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (9–12 October 2011).

In Triassic-aged rocks of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada the remains of nine14m long ichthyosaurs, Shonisaurus popularis, can be found. These were the Triassic’s counterpart to today’s predatory giant squid-eating sperm whales. But the fossils at the Nevada site have a long history of perplexing researchers.

McMenamin noted different degrees of etching on the bones that suggests that the shonisaurs were not all killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged (below). That it got him thinking about a particular modern predator that is known for just this sort of intelligent manipulation of bones.

In the fossil bed, some of the shonisaur vertebral disks are arranged in curious linear patterns with almost geometric regularity resembling a coleoid sucker. In other words, the vertebral disc “pavement” seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait. link

But could an octopus really have taken out such huge swimming predatory reptiles? Watch this video :

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Reconstructing The Evolutionary History of Mollusks

Phylogenomics reveals deep molluscan relationships. 2011. K.M. Kocot, et al. Nature 477: 452-456.

N-Man © Steve Bissette
Deep genomic analysis of Molluscsa shows there is more than 1 way to make a brain.

Using genomics and computational approaches, scientists have reconstructed the evolutionary history of the entire phylum Molluscsa, ranging from giant squid to microscopic marine worm-like creatures.

One of the surprising outcomes of the study suggests that the formation of a complex brain in mollusks has independently occurred at least four times during the course of evolution. link

Nothing says Danger like a Giant Clam!

Watch the horror HERE

Friday, October 07, 2011

Siamodon nimngami, Iguanodontian from Thialand

A new iguanodontian dinosaur from the Khok Kruat Fm (Early Cretaceous, Aptian) of northeastern Thailand. 2011. E. Buffetaut and V. Suteethorn. Annales de PalĂ©ontologie 97: 51–62.

Abstract: A new taxon of ornithopod dinosaur is described as Siamodon nimngami nov. gen, nov. sep., on the basis of a well-preserved maxilla from the Khok Kruat Formation (Aptian) of northeastern Thailand. An isolated tooth and a braincase are referred to this taxon, and the status of other ornithopod specimens from Thailand and Laos is discussed.

S. nimngami is considered as an advanced iguanodontian, apparently close to Probactrosaurus, from which it differs by various characters of the maxilla. Siamodon is an addition to the already long list of advanced iguanodontian taxa from the late Early Cretaceous of Asia. The diversity and abundance of these forms may suggest that advanced iguanodontians first appeared in Asia, before spreading to other parts of the world.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Last Universal Common Ancestor of All Life

Evolution of vacuolar proton pyrophosphatase domains and volutin granules: clues into the early evolutionary origin of the acidocalcisome. 2011. M. J, Seufferheld, et al. Biology Direct: 6:50.

My Greatest Adventure, DC Comics
New evidence suggests that the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) was a sophisticated organism after all, with a complex structure recognizable as a cell.
The study builds on several years of research into a once-overlooked feature of microbial cells, a region with a high concentration of polyphosphate, a type of energy currency in cells.

This site actually represents the first known universal organelle (acidocalcisome), once thought to be absent from bacteria and their distantly related microbial cousins.

By comparing the sequences of the V-H+PPase genes from hundreds of organisms representing the three domains of life, the team constructed a "family tree" that showed that the V-H+PPase enzyme and the acidocalcisome it serves are very ancient, dating back to the LUCA, before the three main branches of the tree of life appeared.

"There are many possible scenarios that could explain this, but the best, the most parsimonious, the most likely would be that you had already the enzyme even before diversification started on Earth," said study co-author Gustavo Caetano-Anollés.

"The protein was there to begin with and was then inherited into all emerging lineages." link

Died This Day: George Gaylord Simpson

Simpson (June 16, 1902 - October 6, 1984) is known for his contributions to evolutionary theory and to the understanding of intercontinental migrations of animal species in past geological times. Simpson specialized in early fossil mammals, leading expeditions on four continents and discovering in 1953 the 50-million-year old fossil skulls of dawn horses in Colorado.

Simpson helped develop the modern biological theory of evolution, drawing on paleontology, genetics, ecology, and natural selection to show that evolution occurs as a result of natural selection operating in response to shifting environmental conditions. He spent most of his career as a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History. image. From Today In Science History.