WFS News: Researchers discover 48-million-year-old lipids in a fossil bird

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As a rule, soft parts do not withstand the ravages of time; hence, the majority of vertebrate fossils consist only of bones. Under these circumstances, a new discovery from the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Messel Pit” near Darmstadt in Germany comes as an even bigger surprise: a 48-million-year old skin gland from a bird, containing lipids of the same age. The oldest lipids ever recorded in a fossil vertebrate were used by the bird to preen its plumage. The study is now published in the scientific journal Royal Society Proceedings B.

48-million-year old bird fossil excavated at the “Messel Pit“ in Germany. Markings show the uropygial gland. Credit: Copyright: Sven Traenkner/ Senckenberg

48-million-year old bird fossil excavated at the “Messel Pit“ in Germany. Markings show the uropygial gland.Credit: Copyright: Sven Traenkner/ Senckenberg

Birds spend a large amount of time preening their plumage. This makes sense, since the set of feathers adds to each bird’s particular appearance, isolates and enables them to fly. In this preening ritual, the uropygial gland, located at the lower end of the bird’s back, plays an important role. It produces an oily secretion used by the birds to grease their plumage in order to render it smoother and water-repellent.

Together with a group of international colleagues, Dr. Gerald Mayr, head of the Ornithology Section at the Senckenberg Research Institute, now discovered the oldest occurrence of such preen oils in birds known to date. With an age of 48 million years, this ancient preen oil constitutes a small scientific sensation. “The discovery is one of the most astonishing examples of soft part preservation in animals. It is extremely rare for something like this to be preserved for such a long time,” says Mayr.

The organic materials that the soft parts consist of usually decompose within decades, or even just a few years. Several-million-year-old feathers and fur remnants are only known from a small number of fossil sites to date, including the oxygen-poor oil shale deposits of the Messel fossil site. This site also yielded the uropygial gland and the contained lipids examined in the course of this study.

“As shown by our detailed chemical analysis, the lipids have kept their original chemical composition, at least in part, over a span of 48 million years. The long-chain hydrocarbon compounds from the fossil remains of the uropygial gland can clearly be differentiated from the oil shale surrounding the fossil,” explains Mayr. The analysis offers proof that the fossil artifact constitutes one of the oldest preserved uropygial glands — a suspicion which had already been suggested by the arrangement at the fossil bird skeleton, albeit not finally confirmed.

To date, it is not clear why the lipids from the uropygial gland were able to survive for so long. It is possible that hey hardened into nore decomposition-resistant waxes under exclusion of oxygen. In addition, the researchers assume that one of the properties of the preen oil played a role that is still shown by modern birds today — its antibacterial components. They may have been the reason that after the bird’s death only few bacteria were able to settle in, preventing the full-on decomposition.

For Mayr and his colleagues, the discovery constitutes a milestone for paleontologists. “The 40-million-year-old lipids demonstrate the potential extent of preservation possible under favorable conditions — not just bones and hairs and feathers, as previously assumed. If we find more of these lipids, we will be able to better reconstruct the lifestyle of these animals. For example, it would be interesting to find out whether feathered dinosaurs, as the ancestors of birds, already possessed uropygial glands and preened their plumages,” adds Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol, one of the study’s co-authors, in closing.

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  1. Shane O’Reilly, Roger Summons, Gerald Mayr, Jakob Vinther. Preservation of uropygial gland lipids in a 48-million-year-old bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1865): 20171050 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1050
  2. Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. “Ancient preen oil: Researchers discover 48-million-year-old lipids in a fossil bird.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171018091229.htm>

WFS News: Researchers have retrieved original pigment, beta-keratin and muscle proteins from a 54-million-year-old sea turtle hatchling

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Researchers from North Carolina State University, Lund University in Sweden and the University of Hyogo in Japan have retrieved original pigment, beta-keratin and muscle proteins from a 54 million-year-old sea turtle hatchling. The work adds to the growing body of evidence supporting persistence of original molecules over millions of years and also provides direct evidence that a pigment-based survival trait common to modern sea turtles evolved at least 54 million years ago.

Holotype of Tasbacka danica. (a) Photograph of the fossil. Fo, fontanelle (the light colour is a result of sediment infill); Hyo, hyoplastron; Hyp, hypoplastron; Ne, neural; Nu, nuchal; Pe, peripheral; Py, pygal. Arrowheads indicate neural nodes. (b) Detail of the carapace with the sampled area demarcated by a circle. Co, costal; Hu, humerus; Sc, scapula. (c) Higher magnification image showing marginal scutes (arrowheads), pigmentations on bones (arrows), and a brown-black film covering the fontanelles (stars).

Holotype of Tasbacka danica. (a) Photograph of the fossil. Fo, fontanelle (the light colour is a result of sediment infill); Hyo, hyoplastron; Hyp, hypoplastron; Ne, neural; Nu, nuchal; Pe, peripheral; Py, pygal. Arrowheads indicate neural nodes. (b) Detail of the carapace with the sampled area demarcated by a circle. Co, costal; Hu, humerus; Sc, scapula. (c) Higher magnification image showing marginal scutes (arrowheads), pigmentations on bones (arrows), and a brown-black film covering the fontanelles (stars).

Tasbacka danica is a species of sea turtle that lived during the Eocene period, between 56 and 34 million years ago. In 2008 an extremely well-preserved T. danica hatchling was recovered from the Für formation in Jutland, Denmark. The specimen was less than 3 inches (74 millimeters) long. In 2013 paleontologist Johan Lindgren of Lund University uncovered soft tissue residues from an area located near the sea turtle’s left “shoulder.” He collected five small samples for biomolecular analysis.

Ultrastructure of MHM-K2 soft tissues. (a) FEG-SEM micrograph of demineralised tissue showing microbodies and adhering matrix. (b) At higher magnification, the microbodies possess a rough surface texture and scattered pits (arrowheads). (c) FEG-SEM micrograph of untreated soft tissue depicting microbodies embedded in a mineral precipitate (black star) and sheet-like matter (white star). (d) Microbodies (arrowheads) in a sheet-like substrate. (e) TEM micrograph of electron-dense microbodies and fibrous matrix (black arrowheads) after demineralisation. White star indicates epoxy resin, whereas black star marks an artificial rupture.

Ultrastructure of MHM-K2 soft tissues. (a) FEG-SEM micrograph of demineralised tissue showing microbodies and adhering matrix. (b) At higher magnification, the microbodies possess a rough surface texture and scattered pits (arrowheads). (c) FEG-SEM micrograph of untreated soft tissue depicting microbodies embedded in a mineral precipitate (black star) and sheet-like matter (white star). (d) Microbodies (arrowheads) in a sheet-like substrate. (e) TEM micrograph of electron-dense microbodies and fibrous matrix (black arrowheads) after demineralisation. White star indicates epoxy resin, whereas black star marks an artificial rupture.

The shells of modern sea turtle hatchlings are dark colored — this pigmentation gives them protection from aerial predators (such as seagulls) as they float on the ocean surface to breathe. Since turtles are reptiles, and therefore cold-blooded, the dark coloration also allows them to absorb heat from sunlight and regulate their body temperature. This elevated body temperature also allows more rapid growth, reducing the time they are vulnerable at the ocean surface.

The T. danica hatchling specimen appeared to share this coloration with its living counterparts. The researchers observed round organelles in the fossil that could be melanosomes, pigment-containing structures in the skin (or epidermis) that give turtle shells their dark color.

Immunoreactivity of fossil and extant turtle tissues. Immunohistochemical staining results for (a,b,e,f,i,j,m,n,q,r; columns 1 and 2) MHM-K2 and Chelonia mydas (c,d; columns 3 and 4) carapace scute and (g,h,k,l,o,p,s,t; columns 3 and 4) muscle tissue to antibodies raised against (a–d; row 1) Gallus gallus domesticus feathers (anti-Gallus fth), (e–h; row 2) Alligator mississippiensis haemoglobin (anti-Alligator Hb), (i–l; row 3) Struthio camelus haemoglobin (anti-Struthio Hb), (m–p; row 4) G. g. domesticus tropomyosin (anti-Gallus trop), and (q–t; row 5) bacterial peptidoglycan (anti-bac pep). a,c,e,g,i,k,m,o,q,s are overlay images, superimposing fluorescent signal on transmitted light image of sectioned tissue to reveal the localisation of antibody-antigen complexes to tissue. b,d,f,h,j,l,n,p,r,t are imaged using a FITC filter. Antibody-antigen complexes are indicated by green fluorescent signal.

Immunoreactivity of fossil and extant turtle tissues. Immunohistochemical staining results for (a,b,e,f,i,j,m,n,q,r; columns 1 and 2) MHM-K2 and Chelonia mydas (c,d; columns 3 and 4) carapace scute and (g,h,k,l,o,p,s,t; columns 3 and 4) muscle tissue to antibodies raised against (a–d; row 1) Gallus gallus domesticus feathers (anti-Gallus fth), (e–h; row 2) Alligator mississippiensis haemoglobin (anti-Alligator Hb), (i–l; row 3) Struthio camelus haemoglobin (anti-Struthio Hb), (m–p; row 4) G. g. domesticus tropomyosin (anti-Gallus trop), and (q–t; row 5) bacterial peptidoglycan (anti-bac pep). a,c,e,g,i,k,m,o,q,s are overlay images, superimposing fluorescent signal on transmitted light image of sectioned tissue to reveal the localisation of antibody-antigen complexes to tissue. b,d,f,h,j,l,n,p,r,t are imaged using a FITC filter. Antibody-antigen complexes are indicated by green fluorescent signal.

Comparison of immunoreactivity between fossil and extant turtle tissues using antibodies raised against chicken feathers conjugated to 12 nm gold beads. (a–d) Low and (e–h) high resolution localisation of gold beads to fibrous matter, but not microbodies/melanosomes, in (a,b,e,f) fossil tissues and (c,d,g,h) modern Chelonia mydas carapace scute material. Insets in b and d demarcate areas depicted in e,f and g,h, respectively. The data support the specificity of the chicken feather antibodies used in this study, and provide independent validation of the immunofluorescent results.

Comparison of immunoreactivity between fossil and extant turtle tissues using antibodies raised against chicken feathers conjugated to 12 nm gold beads. (a–d) Low and (e–h) high resolution localisation of gold beads to fibrous matter, but not microbodies/melanosomes, in (a,b,e,f) fossil tissues and (c,d,g,h) modern Chelonia mydas carapace scute material. Insets in b and d demarcate areas depicted in e,f and g,h, respectively. The data support the specificity of the chicken feather antibodies used in this study, and provide independent validation of the immunofluorescent results.

To determine the structural and chemical composition of the soft tissues Lindgren collected and see if the fossil sea turtle did have a dark colored shell, the researchers subjected the sample to a selection of high-resolution analytical techniques, including field emission gun scanning electron microscopy (FEG-SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), in situ immunohistochemistry, time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), and infrared (IR) microspectroscopy.

Lindgren performed ToF-SIMS on the samples to confirm the presence of heme, eumelanin and proteinaceous molecules — the components of blood, pigment and protein.

Co-author Mary Schweitzer, professor of biological sciences at NC State with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, performed histochemical analyses of the sample, finding that it tested positive against antibodies for both alpha and beta-keratin, hemoglobin and tropomyosin, a muscle protein. TEM, performed by University of Hyogo evolutionary biologist Takeo Kuriyama, and Schweitzer’s immunogold testing further confirmed the findings.

Molecular characterisation of MHM-K2 tissues by ToF-SIMS analysis. (a) Positive ion spectrum from a region with strong signal from heme-related ions. (b) Positive ion spectrum of a heme (hemin) standard. (c) Negative ion image showing the signal intensity distribution of ions representing heme (red; 65 + 108 + 134 u), eumelanin (green; 66 + 73 + 74 + 97 + 98 + 121 + 122 u) and silica (blue; 60 + 76 + 77 u). Field of view: 200 × 200 µm2. (d) FEG-SEM micrograph showing a fracture edge. Note abundant microbodies in the crack wall and vesicular texture of the surface. (e) Negative ion spectrum from a region with mixed signal from eumelanin- and heme-related ions. (f) Negative ion spectrum from a region dominated by signal from eumelanin-related ions. (g) Positive ion image showing the signal intensity distribution of ions representing heme (red; 436–488 u), aromatics (blue; 91 + 115 u) and proteinaceous materials (green; 30 + 44 + 70 u). Field of view: 328 × 328 µm2. (h) FEG-SEM micrograph of the demarcated area in g depicting sheet-like matter with high signal from amino acid-related peaks.

Molecular characterisation of MHM-K2 tissues by ToF-SIMS analysis. (a) Positive ion spectrum from a region with strong signal from heme-related ions. (b) Positive ion spectrum of a heme (hemin) standard. (c) Negative ion image showing the signal intensity distribution of ions representing heme (red; 65 + 108 + 134 u), eumelanin (green; 66 + 73 + 74 + 97 + 98 + 121 + 122 u) and silica (blue; 60 + 76 + 77 u). Field of view: 200 × 200 µm2. (d) FEG-SEM micrograph showing a fracture edge. Note abundant microbodies in the crack wall and vesicular texture of the surface. (e) Negative ion spectrum from a region with mixed signal from eumelanin- and heme-related ions. (f) Negative ion spectrum from a region dominated by signal from eumelanin-related ions. (g) Positive ion image showing the signal intensity distribution of ions representing heme (red; 436–488 u), aromatics (blue; 91 + 115 u) and proteinaceous materials (green; 30 + 44 + 70 u). Field of view: 328 × 328 µm2. (h) FEG-SEM micrograph of the demarcated area in g depicting sheet-like matter with high signal from amino acid-related peaks.

In the end, the evidence pointed to these molecules as being original to the specimen, confirming that these ancient turtles shared a pigmentation-based survival trait with their modern-day brethren.

“The presence of eukaryotic melanin within a melanosome embedded in a keratin matrix rules out contamination by microbes, because microbes cannot make eukaryotic melanin or keratin,” Schweitzer says. “So we know that these hatchlings had the dark coloration common to modern sea turtles.

“The data not only support the preservation of multiple proteins, but also suggest that coloration was used for physiology as far back as the Eocene, in the same manner as it is today.”

Sources: 1. Johan Lindgren, Takeo Kuriyama, Henrik Madsen, Peter Sjövall, Wenxia Zheng, Per Uvdal, Anders Engdahl, Alison E. Moyer, Johan A. Gren, Naoki Kamezaki, Shintaro Ueno, Mary H. Schweitzer. Biochemistry and adaptive colouration of an exceptionally preserved juvenile fossil sea turtle. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13187-5

2. North Carolina State University. “Keratin, proteins from 54-million-year-old sea turtle show survival trait evolution.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171017091857.htm>

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WFS News:Dinosaur DNA Research: Is the tale wagging the evidence?

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Dinosaurs are a popular topic of study, whether in the public imagination or in scientific research. The scientific community, however, has a dirty little secret regarding the manner in which that research is handled. If dinosaur DNA doesn’t “look like chicken” (or a crocodile), it will most likely be discarded as “unreliable data” prior to publication–and thus be effectively censored from public access.

Why? Because evolutionary scientists are committed to only publish dinosaur DNA data that match their naturalistic tale of origins. Despite the amazing discoveries of soft tissue from dinosaur bones,1 dinosaur DNA research results (and other dinosaur “connective tissue” research) continue to be steered by evolutionary dogmatism.

Dino DNA

An article published in Science in 1993 illustrates how and why dinosaur bone research has been chillingly censored. “Dino DNA: The Hunt and the Hype” by Virginia Morell stated that “several groups are racing to get the first DNA out of dinosaur bones, but other researchers say their efforts are taking attention away from the real scientific value of ancient DNA.”

This article referenced then-recent findings of fresh dinosaur tissue:

Mary Schweitzer, a biology graduate student at Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies, was examining a thin section of Tyrranosaurus rex bone…when she noticed a series of peculiar structures. Round and tiny and nucleated, they were threaded through the bone like red blood cells in blood vessels. But blood cells in a dinosaur bone should have disappeared eons ago. “I got goose bumps,” recalls Schweitzer. “It was exactly like looking at a slice of modern bone. But, of course, I couldn’t believe it. I said to the lab technician: ‘The bones, after all, are 65 million years old. How could blood cells survive that long?'”2

Why was Schweitzer, an eyewitness who microscopically observed the insides of a T. rex bone, afraid to believe her own eyes? Isn’t empirical science all about observation? Furthermore, Morell reported, “Schweitzer has already extracted a molecule that might be dinosaur DNA.”

However, connective tissue ruins and degrades over time, such that DNA should not survive at all, even if the creature only lived 50,000 years ago.3 The existence of 65 million-year-old DNA is biochemically unthinkable. In other words, the old-earth evolutionary tale is clearly at odds with the fresh dinosaur bone evidence. How embarrassing to the academic establishment! This may be why ongoing dinosaur soft tissue discoveries are generally not broadcast through popular media channels.

Research Censorship

Evolutionary “damage control” is observed in the form of “chilling” (i.e., coerced) censorship of research, with severe consequences to those who “buck the system.” Consider the research flow chart pictured below describing the process of extracting dinosaur DNA. Note steps 7 and especially 8. Why must the research results be dismissed if the DNA extract doesn’t look like birds or crocodiles? The answer is evolutionary gatekeeping:

To make sure she’s liberated the right molecule, Schweitzer compares the extracted DNA sequences with those of hundreds of living organisms. If the sequence turns out to be similar to that of a known fungal gene, for example, she knows the sample has been contaminated.

That’s how DNA hunters know they’ve gone wrong. But how do they know when they’re on the right track, given that there are no living dinosaurs to provide a handy sample of DNA for comparison? The answer is that they rely on paleontological theory, which (according to most researchers) holds that dinosaurs and crocodiles came from the same stock, and that the dinosaurs’ only living descendants are birds. Therefore researchers look for DNA that is similar, but not identical, to DNA from these groups of organisms.4

In other words, only DNA research that provides dinosaur DNA sequences similar to those of birds and crocodiles is allowed. As the flowchart indicates, all other results are deemed anomalies that should be rejected as though they were known contaminants, like fungal genes. This approach is not observation-directed empirical research; this is assumption-driven, theory-dictated censorship–“science” falsely so-called.5

Extracting Dinosur DNA

Extracting Dinosaur DNA

Coerced Spoliation of Evidence

This purposeful pattern of coerced concealment of the nonconforming DNA data from unfossilized dinosaur bones (labeled “an anomaly” on the chart) involves what courtroom lawyers and judges call “chilling” coercion and “spoliation of evidence”–inducing the concealment (and eventual destruction) of embarrassing information in order to prevent one’s opponent from using it at trial.

Whenever any kind of evidence is concealed, one immediately questions the spoliators’ motives for doing so. The intuitive answer is that they dislike what the information would reveal. Therefore, to spoliate evidence suggests that the spoliators’ argument or theory would be weakened, or embarrassed, by that evidence. This suggestion is so strong, forensically speaking, that it is treated as a rule of presumptive inference in law courts. In other words, if someone hides evidence in this way, the law presumes that the hidden evidence was damaging to the argument of the spoliator. The spoliator then bears the burden of proof to show otherwise.6

A kindred rule to the foregoing…is that the intentional spoliation or destruction of evidence relevant to a case raises a presumption that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the cause of the spoliator.…The deliberate destruction of evidence gives rise to the presumption that the matter destroyed is not favorable to the spoliator.7

This shows that the civil law courts understand the importance of evidence spoliation–it points to a willingness to conceal or otherwise suppress truth in order to advance a specific cause. The name Arthur Andersen comes to mind, as this accounting firm’s shredding of Enron documents hindered SEC investigators.8

Follow the Procedure, or Else

In suppressed dinosaur DNA research–which is a subset of the irrefutable, but hushed, dinosaur soft tissue discoveries–the same issue of evidence spoliation is relevant. Why? Because today’s dinosaur DNA controversy in particular, and today’s dinosaur “connective tissue” controversy in general, directly puts at issue the real age of the dinosaurs: Did they live millions of years ago, or in much more recent history on an earth inhabited by humans–descendants of Adam and Eve?9

How will anyone really know what dinosaur DNA sequences look like until uncensored data from dinosaur bones are published for public scrutiny? And how will such data be published at all if “embarrassing” research results are routinely discarded as anomalous, simply because they didn’t “look like chicken”? One way to acquire more reliable data in this case would be to repeat the DNA research across multiple labs, until consistent results emerge.

In fact, a similar approach was taken in 1994. The winners of the race to sequence dinosaur DNA were Scott Woodward and his colleagues, who published their results in Science.10 They extracted DNA from a purportedly well-preserved dinosaur bone. However, they were not rewarded for their victory. The sequence they discovered was not like birds or reptiles, but seemed unique.

These researchers decided not to follow the procedure outlined in the 1993 flowchart, which would have “told” them that what they found was an unacceptable “anomaly.” Since this 1994 DNA did not fit the evolutionary interpretive filter, the authors were raked over the academic coals. Moreover, the objections to their results were not based on conflicting research results, but appeared in editorials and reviews. As a result of the uproar from the scientific community, their dinosaur DNA sequence never became a permanent entry in any public database. In fact, since this very public academic flogging, no scientist has attempted to publish any dinosaur DNA research (resulting in “chilled” academic speech).

Interestingly, Schweitzer has never published any of her purported DNA research on dinosaur tissue, although she has published on tissue analyses and, recently, data on protein sequence. While the tissue analyses reported over the past decade are nearly impossible to dispute, this recently published dinosaur protein sequence from a T. rex came under extreme criticism and the data were highly questioned by peers as having been manipulated to produce close similarities with chicken and ostrich protein.11 Was this done as per the “paleontological theory and protocol” described in 1993?

Conclusion

The gatekeeping approach to ancient DNA research established as a protocol in 1993 is a product of dogmatic evolutionary theory. The 1994 results put the dogma to the test, with the result that:

  1. Ancient DNA, known to be unstable, was extracted from “80 million-year-old” bone.
  2. The sequence, though it showed evidence of decay, was no more bird-like than it was mammal-like.

The coerced suppression of the results by the evolutionary scientific community has dissuaded anyone else from publishing dinosaur DNA research that is not in line with evolutionary dictates. Such self-censorship “chills” empirical research, which prevents the public reporting of observable DNA sequences in order to insulate the larger story of particles-to-people evolution from cross-examination.

Where are the real scientists in dinosaur DNA research who refuse to kowtow to evolution’s gatekeepers?

References

  1. Thomas, B. 2009. Dinosaur Soft Tissue Issue Is Here to Stay. Acts & Facts. 38 (9): 18.
  2. Morell, V. 1993. Dino DNA: The Hunt and the Hype. Science. 261 (5118): 160.
  3. Ibid, 161. (This illustrates the thermodynamic maxim “as time increases, chemistry wins over biology.”)
  4. Difficulties With Dinosaur DNA, ibid, 161.
  5. 1 Timothy 6:20.
  6. See Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Johnson, 106 S.W.3d 718, 46 Tex. Supr. Ct. J. 685 (Tex. 2003) (summarizing Texas jurisprudence regarding spoliation of evidence), citing Armory v. Delamirie, 1 Strange 505, 93 Engl. Rep. 664 (K.B. 1722) (illustrating how spoliation of evidence, as a legal problem, predates the USA’s existence).
  7. Quoting H.E. Butt Grocery Co. v. Bruner, 530 S.W.2d 340, 344 (Tex. Civ. App. – Waco, 1975, writ dismissed by agr’t), citing McCormick & Ray, TEXAS EVIDENCE (2nd ed.), Volume I, § 103, pages 141-142.
  8. See, e.g., In re Enron Corporation Securities, Derivative & “ERISA” Litigation, 2003 WL 25508889 (S.D. Tex. 2003) (discussing how Arthur Andersen accountants committed spoliation of evidence by shredding Enron documents to hinder the SEC’s investigation of Enron, etc.).
  9. There are indications that dinosaurs have lived within the last few thousands, and maybe even hundreds, of years. See Cooper, B. 1995. After the Flood. Chichester, UK: New Wine Press, 130-161, which documents and discusses historical records of human encounters with strange creatures during various centuries after Christ, involving detailed descriptions of wild animals that today would be called dinosaurs.
  10. Woodward, S. R., N. J. Weyand and M. Bunnell. 1994. DNA Sequence from Cretaceous Period Bone Fragments. Science. 266 (5188): 1229-1232.
  11. For more details, see Tomkins, J. 2009. Dinosaur Protein Sequences and the Dino-to-Bird Model. Acts & Facts. 38 (10): 12-14.

* Dr. Johnson is Special Counsel at ICR. Dr. Tomkins, ICR Research Associate, worked in academic research in genetics and genomics for 18+ years, 12 involving research in cloning and sequencing DNA from a wide variety of plants, animals and microbes. Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S., J. Tomkins and B. Thomas. 2009. Dinosaur DNA Research: Is the tale wagging the evidence? Acts & Facts. 38 (10): 4-6.

Source: http://www.icr.org

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WFS News:Dinosaur Gets Strange Diagnosis 78 Million Years After Its Death

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There weren’t any doctors when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but one duck-billed dino has managed to get a diagnosis for its unusual joint condition about 78 million years after its death, thanks to a group of researchers who analyzed its strangely fused and pitted fossilized bones.

The adult duck-billed dinosaur, known as a hadrosaurid, had an inflammatory type of chronic arthritis, known as spondyloarthropathy, that attacks the spine and can cause the vertebrae to fuse together.

“This is the first occurrence of spondyloarthropathy in a hadrosaurid that we know [of],” said Darren Tanke, a senior fossil preparation technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, who is studying the fossils. [Photos: Duck-Billed Dinos Found in Alaska]

The duck-billed dinosaur's vertebrae were fused together because of its joint condition. Credit: Courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

 The duck-billed dinosaur’s vertebrae were fused together because of its joint condition.
                                                                  Credit: Courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Researchers uncovered the unique fossils in 1988 from a bone bed — basically, an accumulation of bones from different dinosaurs in one location — at Milk River Ridge Reservoir, an artificial lake in southern Alberta.

“We were just doing a general collection of the bones along the shoreline there,” Tanke told Live Science. “The lake was lapping against the shoreline, exposing all these bones. They had to be collected right away, or they would have been destroyed.”

The scientists put the fossils into a plaster jacket, and worked on them over the years at the Royal Tyrell Museum, extracting horned and duck-billed dinosaur remains from the rock. Recently, a probe into the sample revealed a mysterious bone; it looked like the dinosaur’s sacrum — a bone in the lower back made of fused vertebrae that sits between the hip bones and the pelvis.

But this guess was wildly wrong, the researchers soon found.

“As [the fossil] became more and more cleaned up, we realized that the fusion of the vertebrae wasn’t the sacrum,” Tanke said. “It was fused because it was a pathology of the specimen, and the bones were not sacral vertebrae; they were dorsal vertebrae [in the middle of the back].”

It’s not uncommon to find fused duck-billed-dinosaur vertebrae, but these vertebrae are typically in the dinosaur’s tail, not in the middle of its spine, Tanke said.

Tanke excavated the rest of the duck-billed-dino specimen with extreme care, using an instrument that blasted air and an abrasive (in this case, baking soda) at the fossils to free them from the rock and clay.

The end result was unexpected: They found fused, pitted and textured vertebrae — a sign of spondyloarthropathy, said study co-researcher Dr. Bruce Rothschild, a professor in the School of Medicine at West Virginia University.

The condition likely impaired the dinosaur’s movement — a disadvantage if it was fleeing a predator, such as a tyrannosaur, Rothschild said. The ailment may have also made it difficult for the duck-billed creature to move around in everyday life and defend itself, he said.

Notice the pitted bone caused by the spondyloarthropathy. This bone would be smooth if the dinosaur didn't have this condition. Credit: Courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Notice the pitted bone caused by the spondyloarthropathy. This bone would be smooth if the dinosaur didn’t have this condition.Credit: Courtesy Royal Tyrrell Museum

Evidence of spondyloarthropathy has also been found in other dinosaurs, including two species of horned dinosaur, six types of sauropod (a long-necked and long-tailed herbivorous giants) and two species of theropod (bipedal, mostly meat-eating dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurs), the researchers said. The condition also affects mammals, including humans, Rothschild said. [The Strangest Medical Conditions]

There is no cure for the condition, but its symptoms in humans are often treated with the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine (brand names Azulfidine and Sulfazine), Rothschild noted.

The research, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented Aug. 23 at the 2017 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Calgary, Alberta.

Original article on Live Science.By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer.

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WFS News:Sea-level change and super storms; geologic evidence from the last interglacial (MIS 5e)

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While strong seasonal hurricanes have devastated many of the Caribbean and Bahamian islands this year, geologic studies on several of these islands illustrate that more extreme conditions existed in the past. A new analysis published in Marine Geology shows that the limestone islands of the Bahamas and Bermuda experienced climate changes that were even more extreme than historical events. In the interest of our future world, scientists must seek to understand the complexities of linked natural events and field observations that are revealed in the geologic record of past warmer climates.

In Bermuda and the Bahamas, the geology of the last interglacial (LIG; approximately 120,000 years ago) is exquisitely preserved in nearly pure carbonate sedimentary rocks. A record of superstorms and changing sea levels is exposed in subtidal, beach, storm, and dune deposits on multiple islands. Extensive studies by the authors over the past decades on these islands have documented stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and geomorphic evidence of major oceanic and climatic disruptions at the close of the last interglacial.

The image on the left shows eolian (lower) and runup bedding (upper) exposed in a roadcut on Old Land Road on Great Exuma Island (road elevation +23 meters). On the right are thick beds with fenestral porosity, or 'beach bubbles,' showing that massive waves ran up over older dunes exposed in a roadcut on Suzy Turn Road along the Atlantic Ocean east side of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, BWI. Credit: Marine Geology

The image on the left shows eolian (lower) and runup bedding (upper) exposed in a roadcut on Old Land Road on Great Exuma Island (road elevation +23 meters). On the right are thick beds with fenestral porosity, or ‘beach bubbles,’ showing that massive waves ran up over older dunes exposed in a roadcut on Suzy Turn Road along the Atlantic Ocean east side of Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, BWI. Credit: Marine Geology

Dr. Paul J. Hearty, a retired Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Dr. Blair. R. Tormey, a Coastal Research Scientist at Western Carolina University conducted an invited review of published findings. It demonstrates that during a global climate transition in the late last interglacial, also known as marine isotope substage 5e (MIS 5e), abrupt multi-meter sea-level changes occurred. Concurrently, coastlines of the Bahamas and Bermuda were impacted by massive storms generated in the North Atlantic Ocean, resulting in a unique trilogy of wave-transported deposits: megaboulders, chevron-shaped, storm-beach ridges, and runup deposits on high dune ridges.

While perhaps more mundane than the megaboulders (found only locally on Eleuthera), the sedimentological structures found within chevron ridge and runup deposits across islands throughout the Bahamas and Bermuda point to frequent and repeated inundation by powerful storm waves, in some locations leaving storm deposits tens of meters above sea level.

During the last interglacial, sea levels were about 3-9 meters higher than they are now. The geologic evidence indicates that the higher sea-levels were accompanied by intense “superstorms,” which deposited giant wave-transported boulders at the top of cliffed coastlines, formed chevron-shaped, storm beach ridges in lowland areas, and left wave runup deposits on older dunes more than 30 meters above sea level. These events occurred at a time of only slightly warmer global climate and CO2 (about 275 ppm) was much lower than today.

The authors emphasize “the LIG record reveals that strong climate forcing is not required to yield major impacts on the ocean and ice caps.” In our industrial world, rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2 has surpassed 400 ppm, levels not achieved since the Pliocene era about 3 million years ago, while global temperature has increased nearly 1 °C since the 1870s. Today, ice sheets are melting, sea level is rising, oceans are warming, and weather events are becoming more extreme.

Drs. Hearty and Tormey conclude that with the greatly increased anthropogenic CO2 forcing at rates unmatched in nature, except perhaps during global extinction events, dramatic change is certain. They caution that, “Our global society is producing a climate system that is racing forward out of humanity’s control into an uncertain future. If we seek to understand the non-anthropogenic events of the last interglaciation, some of the consequences of our unchecked forward speed may come more clearly into focus…a message from the past; a glimpse into the future.”

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Ref: P.J. Hearty, B.R. Tormey. Sea-level change and superstorms; geologic evidence from the last interglacial (MIS 5e) in the Bahamas and Bermuda offers ominous prospects for a warming Earth. Marine Geology, 2017; 390: 347 DOI: 10.1016/j.margeo.2017.05.009

WFS News:Fossil discovery in Tanzania reveals ancient bobcat-sized carnivore

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Paleontologists working in Tanzania have identified a new species of hyaenodont, a type of extinct meat-eating mammal. The study is published today, National Fossil Day, in the journal PLOS ONE and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

After the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago, hyaenodonts were the main predators on the African continent. The newly discovered animal is called Pakakali rukwaensis, the name derived from the Swahili term “pakakali,” meaning “fierce cat,” and “rukwaensis,” the word for the Rukwa Rift region of the Great Rift Valley in southwestern Tanzania.

A closer look at the bobcat-like fossil animal uncovered in Tanzania. Credit: Matthew Borths

A closer look at the bobcat-like fossil animal uncovered in Tanzania.
Credit: Matthew Borths

Between 23 and 25 million years ago, newcomers arrived in Africa — the first relatives of modern dogs, cats and hyenas — where they coexisted with hyaenodonts for millions of years. But eventually, hyaenodonts went extinct.

“The shift from hyaenodonts to modern carnivores in Africa is like a controlled experiment,” says study co-author Matthew Borths of Ohio University.

“We start with only hyaenodonts. Then the relatives of cats and dogs arrive. They coexist for a few million years, then the hyaenodonts are driven to extinction and we’re left with ‘The Lion King.’ With Pakakali, we can start to unravel that extinction. Were the lineages competing? Were they adapting differently to a drier, more open landscape?”

The new fossil helps researchers unravel extinction dynamics for predatory mammals stalking African ecosystems of that long-ago time.

“This new carnivore, discovered in Tanzania sediment deposits dating from 25 million years ago, provides new information about the transition of carnivores in older ecosystem types to carnivores in today’s African ecosystems,” says Judy Skog, program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

Paleontologists at work in Tanzania on research that led to the find of the new carnivore species. Credit: Nancy Stevens

Paleontologists at work in Tanzania on research that led to the find of the new carnivore species.
Credit: Nancy Stevens

The new hyaenodont species was discovered in the same 25 million-year-old rocks as the oldest fossil evidence of the split between Old World monkeys and apes. At that time, the ecosystem was undergoing dramatic climate and tectonic upheavals as Africa collided with Eurasia and the modern East African Rift System formed.

The fossil gives paleontologists a glimpse of hyaenodont anatomy before modern carnivores invaded the continent, revealing that Pakakali was about the size of a bobcat.

Based on the findings of the study, hyaenodonts may have been pushed to become more specialized meat-eaters due to competition from other species. That dietary specialization may have made hyaenodonts more vulnerable to extinction in the changing African ecosystem by leaving them with fewer food choices.

Pakakali was discovered by an international team of scientists from the United States, Australia and Tanzania as part of the Rukwa Rift Basin Project (RRBP), an interdisciplinary collaboration examining the development of the modern African ecosystem. In more than a decade of exploration, RRBP researchers have described the habitat Pakakali called home along with many other animals that occupied the ecosystem.

“The environment containing Pakakali reveals a fascinating window into extinction,” says Nancy Stevens, co-author of the study and a paleontologist at Ohio University. “It highlights the vulnerability of carnivorous species to rapid environmental change, a topic we are grappling with on the African continent today.”

Source: The National Science Foundation (NSF):News Release 17-101

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WFS News: ‘Obscure’ stalked filter feeder lived in Utah some 500 million years ago

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To the untrained eye, it looks like a flower crudely etched into rock — as if a child had scratched a picture of a bloom. But to the late fossil hunter Lloyd Gunther, the tulip shape he unearthed at Antimony Canyon in northern Utah looked like the remnant of an ancient marine animal.

Years ago, Gunther collected the rock and later gave it to researchers at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute — just one among thousands of such fossils he donated to the institute over the years.

This is the only example of a species that lived in Utah during the mid Cambrian. Researchers believe the specimen probably drifted away from a community of similar stalked filter feeders. Credit: Julien Kimmig | KU News Service

This is the only example of a species that lived in Utah during the mid Cambrian. Researchers believe the specimen probably drifted away from a community of similar stalked filter feeders.
Credit: Julien Kimmig | KU News Service

But this find was the only fossilized specimen of a species previously unknown to science — an “obscure” stalked filter feeder. It has just been detailed for the first time in a paper appearing in the Journal of Paleontology.

“This was the earliest specimen of a stalked filter feeder that has been found in North America,” said lead author Julien Kimmig, collections manager for Invertebrate Paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute. “This animal lived in soft sediment and anchored into the sediment. The upper part of the tulip was the organism itself. It had a stem attached to the ground and an upper part, called the calyx, that had everything from the digestive tract to the feeding mechanism. It was fairly primitive and weird.”

Kimmig researches the taxonomy, stratigraphy and paleoecology of the Cambrian Spence Shale found in Utah and Idaho, where Gunther found the obscure filter feeder.

“The Spence Shale gives us soft-tissue preservation, so we get a much more complete biota in these environments,” he said. “This gives us a better idea of what the early world was like in the Cambrian. It’s amazing to see what groups of animals had already appeared over 500 million years ago, like arthropods, worms, the first vertebrate animals — nearly every animal that we have around today has a relative that already lived during those times in the Cambrian.”

In honor of fossil hunter Gunther, a preeminent collector who performed fieldwork from the 1930s to the 2000s, Kimmig and Biodiversity Institute colleagues Luke Strotz and Bruce Lieberman named the newly described species Siphusauctum lloydguntheri.

The stalked filter feeder is just the second animal placed within its genus, and the first Siphusauctum to be discovered outside the Burgess Shale, a fossil-rich deposit in the Canadian Rockies.

“What these animals were doing was filtering water to get food, like micro-plankton,” Kimmig said. “The thing is, where this one was located we only found a single specimen over a period of 60 years of collecting in the area.”

Kimmig said it isn’t yet known if the newly discovered stalked filter feeder lived a highly solitary life or if it drifted off from a community of similar animals.

“It’s hard to tell from a single specimen,” he said. “There were algae found right next to it, so it likely was transported there. The algae found with it were planktonic algae that were floating themselves. It could have fallen just next to it — but that would be a big coincidence — so that’s why we’re thinking it came loose from somewhere else and got mixed in with the algae.”

Kimmig and his KU colleagues say the newly described specimen varies in key areas from similar known species of stalked filter feeders from the Cambrian.

“There are several differences in how the animal looked,” Kimmig said. “If you look at the digestive tract preserved in this specimen, the lower digestive tract is closer to the base of the animal compared to other animals. The calyx is very slim — it looks like a white wine glass, whereas in other species it looks like a big goblet. What we don’t have in this specimen that the others have are big branches for filter feeding. We don’t know if those weren’t preserved or if this one didn’t have them.”

According to the researchers, there are no species alive today that claim lineage to Siphusauctum lloydguntheri. But Kimmig said there were a few contemporary examples that share similarities.

“The closest thing to the lifestyle — but not a relative — would be crinoids, commonly called sea lilies,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s likely not a relative of Siphusauctum in the world anymore. We have thousands of similar fossil specimens in the Burgess Shale, but it’s hard to identify what these animals actually were. It might be possibly related to contemporary entoprocts, which are a lot smaller than this one — but it’s hard to tell if they’re related at all.”

Ultimately, the mysterious stalked filter feeder is a reminder of the strange and vast arc of evolution where species continuously come and go, according to Kimmig.

“It is enigmatic because we don’t have anything living that is exactly like it,” he said. “What is fascinating about this animal is we can clearly relate it to animals existing in the Cambrian and then we just don’t find it anymore. It’s just fascinating to see how evolution works. Sometimes it creates something — and it just doesn’t work out. We have some lineages like worms that lived long before the Cambrian and haven’t changed in appearance or behavior, then we have things that were around for a couple of million years and just disappeared because they were chance victims of mass extinctions.”

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  1. Julien Kimmig, Luke C. Strotz, Bruce S. Lieberman. The stalked filter feeder Siphusauctum lloydguntheri n. sp. from the middle Cambrian (Series 3, Stage 5) Spence Shale of Utah: its biological affinities and taphonomy. Journal of Paleontology, 2017; 91 (05): 902 DOI: 10.1017/jpa.2017.57
  2. University of Kansas. “‘Obscure’ stalked filter feeder lived in Utah some 500 million years ago.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171011120403.htm>.

WFS News:Dinosaur blood? New research urges caution regarding fossilized soft tissue

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Scientists have conducted experiments to accelerate degradation in keratinous tissues such as feathers, scales and hair in order to simulate the processes that occur over deep time as something becomes a fossil.

Their findings demonstrate that previous claims showing the preservation of keratin protein in dinosaur fossils are likely to be false.

Similarly, widely publicised claims of dinosaur blood in fossil bones were shown to likely represent an artefact of degraded organic matter rather than actual blood cells.

The researchers undertook experimental treatments that either used microbes to decay tissues or subjected tissues to intense heat and pressure — a process known as maturation — in order to mimic the conditions a fossil experiences deep underground.

Electron microscopy of abiotically-formed structures as an explanation for 'dinosaur blood'. A) Moderately matured turkey skin. B) Proposed blood-like structures in a dinosaur bone (modified from Bertazzo et al. (2015, online Supplementary Fig. 3c) and used under Creative Commons CC-BY license). Presented here with a defined scale bar. Arrowheads indicate several shared structures: (1) concave bulge/fold continuous with the underlying organic material; (2) pit/simple fold; (3) spherical bulge. Credit: University of Bristol

Electron microscopy of abiotically-formed structures as an explanation for ‘dinosaur blood’. A) Moderately matured turkey skin. B) Proposed blood-like structures in a dinosaur bone (modified from Bertazzo et al. (2015, online Supplementary Fig. 3c) and used under Creative Commons CC-BY license). Presented here with a defined scale bar. Arrowheads indicate several shared structures: (1) concave bulge/fold continuous with the underlying organic material; (2) pit/simple fold; (3) spherical bulge.Credit: University of Bristol

Evan Saitta from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Science, led the research which has been published in the journal Palaios.

He said: “Decay and mild maturation resulted in some intriguing textural differences in degradation patterns based on the type of keratin such as curling versus crimping of filaments when matured.

“These results may show promise for identifying relatively recent archaeological keratin remains but when maturation conditions are increased to simulate conditions present during burial and fossilisation, the keratin degrades into a foul-smelling, water-soluble fluid that can dissolve or leach away from the fossil.”

In another experiment the vacuum conditions of an electron microscope appear to have produced folds, pits and blebs in a sample of degraded turkey skin, similar to those features previously suggested to represent dinosaur blood cells.

The range of sizes and shapes of these experimental and fossil structures is evidence that they form through a non-biological process, as opposed to a biological process like the formation of cells.

Thus, the purported blood cells in these dinosaur bones are likely to be degraded organics, most likely from microbes that invaded the cavities in the bone rather than exceptionally preserved, easily-degradable blood cells.

Saitta added: “We’ve shown that different keratin types show intriguing differences in degradation patterns that might help identify keratinous remains in archaeological material.

“However, when the processes of fossilisation and burial over deep time are simulated, keratin protein fully degrades into a fluid that can be lost from fossils, meaning little utility for studying paleontological remains despite contrary claims.”

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  1. Jakob Vinther et al. Experimental taphonomy of keratin: A structural analysis of early taphonomicchanges. Palaios, October 2017 DOI: 10.2110/palo.2017.051
  2. University of Bristol. “Dinosaur blood? New research urges caution regarding fossilized soft tissue.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171010105419.htm>.

WFS News: Earliest evidence of reproduction in a complex organism

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Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have found the earliest example of reproduction in a complex organism. Their new study has found that some organisms known as rangeomorphs, which lived 565 million years ago, reproduced by taking a joint approach: they first sent out an ‘advance party’ to settle in a new area, followed by rapid colonisation of the new neighbourhood. The results, reported today in the journal Nature, could aid in revealing the origins of our modern marine environment.

Artist's reconstruction of the Fractofusus community on the H14 surface at Bonavista Peninsula showing the clusters that arise from stolon-like reproduction. The large individuals represent the primary colonizers of the site. Their offspring cluster around them, and are themselves surrounded by their own offspring - the third generation on the bed. The stolon-like protrusions are faintly visible and weave in and out of the microbial mat which covers the seafloor. Lighting is artificial and as though from a submersible ROV. Credit: C. G. Kenchington

Artist’s reconstruction of the Fractofusus community on the H14 surface at Bonavista Peninsula showing the clusters that arise from stolon-like reproduction. The large individuals represent the primary colonizers of the site. Their offspring cluster around them, and are themselves surrounded by their own offspring – the third generation on the bed. The stolon-like protrusions are faintly visible and weave in and out of the microbial mat which covers the seafloor. Lighting is artificial and as though from a submersible ROV.Credit: C. G. Kenchington

Using statistical techniques to assess the distribution of populations of a type of rangeomorph called Fractofusus, the researchers observed that larger ‘grandparent’ rangeomorphs were randomly distributed in their environment, and were surrounded by distinct patterns of smaller ‘parents’ and ‘children’. These patterns strongly resemble the biological clustering observed in modern plants, and suggest a dual mode of reproduction: the ‘grandparents’ being the product of ejected waterborne propagules, while the ‘parents’ and ‘children’ grew from ‘runners’ sent out by the older generation, like strawberry plants.

Rangeomorphs were some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth, and have been considered to be some of the first animals — although it’s difficult for scientists to be entirely sure. They thrived in the oceans during the late Ediacaran period, between 580 and 541 million years ago, and could reach up to two metres in length, although most were around ten centimetres. Looking like trees or ferns, they did not appear to have mouths, organs, or means of moving, and probably absorbed nutrients from the water around them.

Like many of the life forms during the Ediacaran, rangeomorphs mysteriously disappeared at the start of the Cambrian period, which began about 540 million years ago, so it has been difficult to link rangeomorphs to any modern organisms, or to figure out how they lived, what they ate and how they reproduced.

“Rangeomorphs don’t look like anything else in the fossil record, which is why they’re such a mystery,” said Dr Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, and the paper’s lead author. “But we’ve developed a whole new way of looking at them, which has helped us understand them a lot better — most interestingly, how they reproduced.”

Mitchell and her colleagues used high-resolution GPS, spatial statistics and modelling to examine fossils of Fractofusus, in order to determine how they reproduced. The fossils are from south-eastern Newfoundland in Canada, which is one of the world’s richest sources of fossils from the Ediacaran period. Since rangeomorphs were immobile, it is possible to find entire ecosystems preserved exactly where they lived, making them extremely suitable for study via spatial techniques.

The ‘generational’ clustering patterns the researchers observed fit closely to a model known as a nested double Thomas cluster model, of the type seen in modern plants. These patterns suggest rapid, asexual reproduction through the use of stolons or runners. At the same time, the random distribution of larger ‘grandparent’ Fractofusus specimens suggests that they were the result of waterborne propagules, which could have been either sexual or asexual in nature.

“Reproduction in this way made rangeomorphs highly successful, since they could both colonise new areas and rapidly spread once they got there,” said Mitchell. “The capacity of these organisms to switch between two distinct modes of reproduction shows just how sophisticated their underlying biology was, which is remarkable at a point in time when most other forms of life were incredibly simple.”

The use of this type of spatial analysis to reconstruct Ediacaran organism biology is only in its infancy, and the researchers intend to extend their approach to further understand how these strange organisms interacted with each other and their environment.The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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Source:Emily G. Mitchell, Charlotte G. Kenchington, Alexander G. Liu, Jack J. Matthews, Nicholas J. Butterfield. Reconstructing the reproductive mode of an Ediacaran macro-organism. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature14646

University of Cambridge. “Earliest evidence of reproduction in a complex organism.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150803154858.htm>

WFS News:Fossil points to early rise of ancient crocodiles

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The discovery reveals that an extinct group of aquatic reptiles evolved millions of years earlier than was previously thought, researchers say.The new species was a 10-foot-long animal that lived in the warm, shallow seas that covered much of what is now Europe.Powerful jaws and big, serrated teeth allowed it to feed on large prey, such as prehistoric squid.

Palaeontologists at Edinburgh discovered the new species – which dates back 163 million years – by studying a heavily damaged fossil which was held in the Natural History Museum’s archives for almost 150 years.

The little-studied specimen – acquired by the museum in 1875 – was identified as a new species based on distinctive features of its skull, lower jaw and, in particular, its teeth.

“The specimen was completely enclosed in a super-hard rock nodule with veins of calcite running through, which had formed around it during the process of fossilisation. The work took many hours over a period of weeks, and great care had to be taken to avoid damaging the skull and teeth as they became exposed”.(By Mark GrahamSenior Fossil Preparator at the Natural History Museum)

The Melksham Monster closely resembled the species shown in this artist's impression (Plesiosuchus manselii), which also belongs to the Geosaurini group. Credit: Fabio Manucci

The Melksham Monster closely resembled the species shown in this artist’s impression (Plesiosuchus manselii), which also belongs to the Geosaurini group. Credit: Fabio Manucci

The ancient reptile – called Ieldraan melkshamensis – has been nicknamed the Melksham Monster after the town in England where it was unearthed.Until now, it was thought that the sub-family of prehistoric crocodiles to which the new species belongs – known as Geosaurini – originated in the Late Jurassic period, between 152 and 157 million years ago.

However, the latest discovery – together with detailed re-analysis of existing fossil evidence – suggests that the group arose millions of years earlier, in the Middle Jurassic, the team says.

The study, published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, was carried out in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London. It was funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

“It’s not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem. Without the amazing preparation work done by our collaborators at the Natural History Museum, it would not have been possible to work out the anatomy of this challenging specimen.”said byDavide Foffa ,School of GeoSciences

According to Dr Steve BrusatteSchool of GeoSciences “The Melksham Monster would have been one of the top predators in the oceans of Jurassic Britain, at the same time that dinosaurs were thundering across the land.

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Source:News From University of Edinburgh.