Scientists Confirm 3.5 Billion Year-Old Fossil Life in Rock

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Scientists Confirm 3.5 Billion Year-Old Fossil Life in Rock

It took more than 10 years of painstaking work, grinding an Australian rock containing fossils smaller than the eye could see, to confirm the earliest direct evidence of life on Earth, scientists said Monday.

The 3.5-billion-year-old fossils – many narrower than a human hair – are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

Other teams of scientists have reported even earlier signs of fossil life, going back 3.95 billion years.

But those studies are based on either an apparent shape of a microfossil, or a chemical trace – not both.

“None of these studies are regarded as proof of life,” lead author John Valley, professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told AFP.

“This is the first, oldest place where we have both morphology and the chemical fingerprint of life.”

Eleven kinds of microbes, preserved in both their cylindrical or snake-like structures, are preserved in the rock.

Some of the bacteria are now extinct, while others are similar to contemporary microbes.

The tiny fossils were found in 1982 from the Apex chert deposit of Western Australia.

Two scientific papers were published on the rock’s apparent microbial contents – one in 1993 and another in 2002.

But critics raised questions, suggesting instead they were not life but odd minerals that merely looked like biological specimens.

So Valley and his fellow researchers spent a decade developing a technique to tease apart the contents of the fossils.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison modified a tool, called a secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS), to grind down the original sample one micrometer at a time, without destroying the fossils which were “suspended at different levels within the rock and encased in a hard layer of quartz,” said the report.

“Each microfossil is about 10 micrometers wide; eight of them could fit along the width of a human hair.”

The technique allowed scientists to detect ratios of carbon-12 from the carbon-13 within each fossil, and compare them to a section of the rock which had no fossils.

“The differences in carbon isotope ratios correlate with their shapes,” Valley explained.

“If they’re not biological there is no reason for such a correlation.”

Some of the microbial life inside is believed to have relied on the Sun to produce energy, while others consumed methane, which was a big part of Earth’s early atmosphere before oxygen.

“This was a well-developed microbial community,” Valley said.

The hunt for the first evidence of life is all-consuming for some scientists, eager to pinpoint the earliest signs after the Earth formed some 4.6 billion years ago.

Microbial life likely began as far back as 4.3 billion years ago, said co-author William Schopf, professor of paleobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The existence of several different kinds of microbes 3.5 billion years ago shows that “life had to have begun substantially earlier – nobody knows how much earlier – and confirms it is not difficult for primitive life to form and to evolve into more advanced microorganisms,” he said.

A separate study published in September in the journal Nature said researchers had found 3.95 billion-year-old chemical traces of life in Canadian rocks.

However, that study – which proclaimed the oldest evidence of life on Earth – also raised skepticism.

One of those critics, Martin Whitehouse, a geologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, said the PNAS report appears to be “a sound study.”

“Regarding the Canadian study, the main differences are (a) these new findings are actual fossils preserving morphology, not just blobs of graphite,” he told AFP in an email.

“And (b) the geochronological interpretation of the Canadian example is, in my opinion, fundamentally flawed, whereas here the dating is unambiguous.”

Researchers hope their technique can one day be applied to other microfossils, perhaps even those that come from cosmic bodies beyond Earth.

Protarctos abstrusus: Fossils Reveal Ancient Bear’s Weakness for Sweets

Sunday, December 24, 2017

An artist’s reconstruction shows Protarctos abstrusus in the Beaver Pond site area during the late summer. An extinct beaver, Dipoides, is shown carrying a tree branch in water. Plants include black crowberry with ripened berries, dwarf birch in foreground, sedges in water margins, and larch trees in background. (Mauricio Antón)

An international team of paleontologists has found the remains of an unusual prehistoric bear that lived 3.5 million years ago (Pliocene epoch) in Canada’s High Arctic.


The High Arctic bear is a close relative of the ancestor of modern bears. It represents an ursine bear (all living bears plus their ancestors, except the giant panda) species called Protarctos abstrusus.

The animal was the size of an Asian black bear and slightly smaller than an American black bear, with a flatter head and a combination of primitive and advanced dental characters.

“This is evidence of the most northerly record for primitive bears, and provides an idea of what the ancestor of modern bears may have looked like,” said team member Dr. Xiaoming Wang, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Protarctos abstrusus was previously known only from a tooth found in Idaho, but Dr. Wang and colleagues found the skull, jaws, teeth and parts of the skeleton from two individuals.

“The skeletal remains of Protarctos abstrusus were collected in different years (1992-2006) from the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canadian Arctic,” the paleontologists explained.

The fossil bear lived in a northern boreal-type forest habitat, where there would have been 24-hour darkness in winter, as well as about six months of ice and snow.

“Modern bears are wide-ranging, found from equatorial to polar regions. Their ancestors, mainly found in Eurasia, date to about 5 million years ago,” the researchers said.

“The new fossil represents one of the early immigrations from Asia to North America but it is probably not a direct ancestor to the modern American black bear.”

Of further significance is that the teeth of both Protarctos abstrusus individuals show signs of dental cavities.

“Dental evidence from Protarctos abstrusus appears to be from two individuals, including an apparent young adult, and both show dental caries, suggesting their diets included high amounts of fermentable carbohydrates early in their lives,” the authors explained.

“Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, are readily metabolized by many bacteria found in the oral biofilm into various acids. These acids demineralize enamel and dentin and may lead to dental caries.”

“This is the first and earliest documented occurrence of high-calorie diet in basal bears, likely related to fat storage in preparation for the harsh Arctic winters,” Dr. Wang said.

“We know that modern bears consume sugary fruits in the fall to promote fat accumulation that allows for winter survival via hibernation,” added team member Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a paleontologist fro mthe Canadian Museum of Nature.

“The dental cavities in Protarctos abstrusus suggest that consumption of sugar-rich foods like berries, in preparation for winter hibernation, developed early in the evolution of bears as a survival strategy.”

The team’s findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.


Xiaoming Wang et al. 2017. A basal ursine bear (Protarctos abstrusus) from the Pliocene High Arctic reveals Eurasian affinities and a diet rich in fermentable sugars. Scientific Reports 7, article number: 17722; doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-17657-8


Scientists Uncover Partially-Preserved "DINOSAUR-like" Corpse

Sunday, December 24, 2017

SCIENTISTS have discovered a partially-preserved corpse that resembles a "dinosaur" with flesh still on its bones, in India.


The "dinosaur" corpse was discovered in Uttarakhand, India, by an electrician cleaning out a sub-station that had been left untouched for years.

The partially-preserved corpse resembles a small "dinosaur", which has baffled scientists, who are struggling to identify what it is.

The creature has now been sent for analysis, including carbon dating, which will reveal its exact age.

The Deinonychus, the Coelophysis and the Dromaeosaurus are dinosaurs that resemble the shape of the creature.

They are all types of theropods, a suborder of dinosaur that ranges in size from a T. rex to an Anchiornis.

Dr Parag Madhukar Dhakate, a conservator with the Indian Forest Service, said that the creature would remain an enigma until scientific analysis had been completed.

He said: “It looks like a dinosaur, but we can’t say anything until all the tests are done.”

Aaryan Kumar, a PhD student in Paleontology from Delhi University, said that it was impossible for a dinosaur skeleton to be so well preserved after so long.

He said: “Non-avian dinosaurs have been extinct for the past 65 million years but it does resemble theropods, a suborder of dinosaurs which included bipedal carnivores.

“But a dinosaur skeleton could not have been found in such a well-preserved condition after millions of years without it being in a fossilized state."

“The only even slightly possible way is it was chemically preserved to store it in a museum. But if that was the case, how did it end up here?”

Dr Dhakate said the specimen had now been sent to Dr Bahadur Kotlia, a paleontologist at Kumaun University, for historical analysis.

There have been suggestions that the corpse could be a distorted animal foetus from within the goat family, however, the mystery is still unsolved.

Dinosaur-like corpse found in India. Hindustan Times/GETTY


Meanwhile, new research has revealed that the world’s largest dinosaur tracks were made 150 million years ago by a big beast at least 115 feet long and weighing more than 5,500 stone.

The tracks were first discovered eight years ago in the French village of Plagne, in the Jura Mountains.

Since then, a series of excavations at the site has uncovered other tracks, sprawling over more than 150 metres (492 feet).

They form the longest sauropod trackway ever to be found.

The Coelophysis and the Dromaeosaurus are dinosaurs that resemble the shape of the creature. GETTY


Now, having compiled and analysed the collected data, French scientists have concluded the tracks were left 150 million years ago by a giant dinosaur at least 35 metres in length and weighing no less than 35 tonnes.

Following the discovery of the tracks in 2009, researchers from the Laboratoire de Geologie de Lyon supervised digs at the site, a meadow covering three hectares.

Their work unearthed many more dinosaur footprints and trackways.

It turned out the prints found in 2009 are part of a 110-step trackway that extends over 155 metres world record for sauropods, which were the largest of the dinosaurs.

Dating of the limestone layers reveals that the trackway was formed 150 million years ago, during the Early Tithonian Age of the Jurassic Period.

Los Angeles Subway Work Uncovers Array of Ice Age Fossils

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Los Angeles Subway Work Uncovers Array of Ice Age Fossils

As part of the crew digging a subway extension under the streets of Los Angeles, Ashley Leger always keeps her safety gear close by.

When her phone buzzes, she quickly dons a neon vest, hard hat and goggles before climbing deep down into a massive construction site beneath a boulevard east of downtown.

Earth-movers are diverted, and Leger gets on her hands and knees and gently brushes the dirt from a spot pointed out by a member of her team. Her heart beats faster because there’s a chance she’ll uncover what she calls “the big find.”

Leger is a paleontologist who digs for fossils in the middle of a city rather than an open plain or desert. She works for a company contracted by Los Angeles transportation officials to keep paleontologists on hand as workers extend a subway line to the city’s west side.

“They’re making sure that they’re recovering every single fossil that could possibly show up,” Leger says of her team of monitors. “They call me anytime things are large and we need to lead an excavation.”

Since work on the extension began in 2014, fossilized remains have routinely turned up from creatures that roamed the grasslands and forests that covered the region during the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

In this Aug. 15, 2017 photo, paleontologist Ashley Leger shows a skull of a young Columbian mammoth found at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles subway system is expanding and so too are the number of prehistoric fossils being recovered as crews dig beneath the city. Since work on one extension began in 2014, workers have routinely turned up fossilized remains of rabbits, camels, bison and other creatures that roamed the region during the last Ice Age. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


They include a partial rabbit jaw, mastodon tooth, camel foreleg, bison vertebrae, and a tooth and ankle bone from a horse.

But the discovery that still makes Leger shake her head in disbelief came about a year ago, shortly after construction began on the project’s second phase. She was at home getting ready for bed when a call came in from one of her monitors.

“It looks big,” he told her.

The next morning, Leger knelt at the site and recognized what appeared to be a partial elephant skull.

It turned out to be much more. After 15 hours of painstaking excavation, the team uncovered an intact skull of a juvenile mammoth.

In this Aug. 15, 2017 photo, paleontologist Ashley Leger navigates through the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension in Los Angeles. Earth-movers are diverted, and Leger gets on her hands and knees and gently brushes the dirt from a spot pointed out by a member of her team. Her heart beats faster because there’s a chance she’ll uncover what she calls “the big find.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


“It’s an absolute dream come true for me,” said Leger, who spent the previous decade at a South Dakota mammoth site with no discoveries even close to the size of the one in Los Angeles. “It’s the one fossil you always want to find in your career.”

California’s stringent environmental laws require scientists to be on hand at certain construction sites.

Paleontologists have staffed all L.A. subway digs beginning in the 1990s, when work started on the city’s inaugural line, said Dave Sotero, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Paying for the paleontologist staff from Cogstone Resource Management is factored into the project’s cost, he said. When scientists are brought in to see what crews might have unearthed, work on the project continues, albeit in a different location.

“Our crews try to be as mindful as possible to help them do their jobs. We get out of their way,” Sotero said, adding that when the mammoth skull was uncovered, construction workers helped deliver it to the mouth of the site.

In this Aug. 15, 2017, photo, a skull of a young Columbian mammoth found at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension is placed on a cart at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles subway system is expanding and so too are the number of prehistoric fossils being recovered as crews dig beneath the city. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


From there, the skull was hauled a mile or so to Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, home to one of America’s most fossil-rich sites.

Assistant curator Dr. Emily Lindsey called it a “pretty remarkable find,” noting that while thousands of dire wolf and saber-toothed cat remains have been uncovered in L.A., there have been only about 30 mammoths.

A few hundred pounds and the size of an easy chair, the skull is especially rare because both tusks were attached. It’s being studied and is available for public viewing inside the museum’s glass-walled Fossil Lab.

With a nod to Hollywood, the 8- to 12-year-old Colombian mammoth was named Hayden, for the actress Hayden Panettiere, featured in the TV series “Nashville” and “Heroes.”

The Cogstone monitor at the construction site had been watching her on television before spotting the speck of bone that turned out to be the intact skull.

In this Aug. 15, 2017 photo, a worker operates a backhoe at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles subway system is expanding and so too are the number of prehistoric fossils being recovered as crews dig beneath the city. Since work on one extension began in 2014, workers have routinely turned up fossilized remains of rabbits, camels, bison and other creatures that roamed the region during the last Ice Age. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Similar endeavors have turned up subterranean treasures during digs in other cities.

Workers at a San Diego construction site found fossils including parts of a mammoth and a gray whale and multiple layers of ancient seashells.

Last year, crews working on a development near Boston’s seaport uncovered a 50-foot (15-meter) wooden boat possibly dating as far back as the late 18th century.

Lindsey praised California’s efforts to ensure science and urban development overlap, while bemoaning what bygone treasures may have been lost before the regulations went into place in the early 1970s.

“Most of the past is below the ground, so you’re only going to find it when you dig,” she said. “As the city grows, I’m sure we’ll find more exciting fossil material.”

In this Aug. 15, 2017 photo, a skull of a young Columbian mammoth found at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension is placed on a cart at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles subway system is expanding and so too are the number of prehistoric fossils being recovered as crews dig beneath the city. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)




Volcano vs Dinosaurs: A Geological Review of the ‘Jurassic World’ Trailer

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The new trailer for the upcoming latest chapter of the successful Jurassic Park franchise, with the title Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, reveals what seems to be some basics of the plot. Years after the dream of an adventure park featuring real, cloned dinosaurs, failed again, the survivors go back to the island, where something survived. Other than in the original novel, there was never an attempt to eradicate the loose dinosaurs, so they proliferated over time. This is a biological impossibility, as such a small island could never host so many different dinosaur species, especially predators.

The trailer also features some geological oddities.

Supposedly a rescue mission is organized to save some samples or animals from the abandoned park, as the island is doomed by an impending volcanic eruption. In the novel, it’s mentioned that the park uses geothermal energy to power itself, so building a park on an active volcano was supposedly part of the plan. Also, geologically active areas are far more interesting, featuring a complex landscape with mountains and rivers, so that may have been advantageous for marketing the park. Geological stable areas, like deserts, tend to be smoothed by erosion and thereby far less appealing to our senses.

After the crew arrives, the situation quickly escalates and Owen Grady, actor Chris Pratt’s character in the movie, soon has to run not only from the dinosaurs but also a volcanic eruption. One scene shows a dark cloud rushing down from an exploding mountain, likely a pyroclastic flow. Grady, together with various dinosaurs, manages to stay ahead of the flow and probably also survives.

Pyroclastic flows (also pyroclastic density currents, or PCDs) are avalanches of hot gases, volcanic ash, and boulders, traveling at a speed exceeding in most cases 50 miles per hour. The fastest, professional sprinter can reach 30 miles per hour, but only over a short distance.

It’s impossible to escape a pyroclastic flow if you’re standing or running in its path. Indeed PCDs are among the most lethal volcanic phenomena. A series of pyroclastic flows during the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902 killed estimated 20,000-40,000 people. Only three survivors were reported. The young shoemaker Léon Compère-Léandre (1874-1936) managed to escape, his home was located at the border of the city of St. Pierre, where the PCD stopped. Still, he was severely burned. As for the dinosaurs, it’s hard to give estimates for running velocity. Models, based on fossil trackways and dinosaur anatomy, suggest that some, agile species (* there are some unidentified, small dinosaurs seen in the trailer) reached 50 miles per hour. Still barely enough to outrun a PCD under perfect conditions, like plain terrain.

You can run, but you can’t escape. Image shared by Dr. Janine Krippner on twitter. Fair Use.

PCDs can travel vast distances, up to 50 miles from the volcano’s crater. From the eruption that destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD, we know that PCDs are lethal up to six miles from the volcano. The heat is so intense that it instantly burns the outer layers of skin and flesh. A body will shrink due to the loss of water by vaporization, squeezing the inner organs out from the body cavities. Even if not hit directly by the pyroclastic flow, as seen in the trailer, inhaling the still hot gases would burn Grady’s lungs, drowning our hero with his own fluids.

It’s curious to note, that a prehistoric reptile, even if not dinosaur, killed by a PCD is known from the fossil record. Discovered in 1931 by  Gualtiero Adami, an engineer and employee at an Italian Natural History Museum, near the village of Piné (Dolomites), the fossil is today hosted in the museum of the Geological Institute of Padua. The “Tridentinosaurus antiquus” was described by paleontologist Piero Leonardi in 1959, recognizing it’s significance as a vertebrate in peculiar preservation conditions. The skeletal remains are surrounded by a carbonaceous patina and the oldest body fossil found in the Alps, dated to 200 million years. It was suggested by some authors, based on the preservation of the fossil, that the animal was killed during a volcanic eruption, by a pyroclastic flow.

A poor lizard, carbonized by a pyroclastic flow some 200 million years in the modern Dolomites. David Bressan



New Extinct Species Discovered in Australia

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The latest addition to the family tree of masupial lions is considerably more ancient than other members, going extinct roughly 19 million years ago.

A new species has been identified from the fossilised remains of a marsupial; lion-like creature that has been unearthed in Australia.

Named Wakaleo Schouteni, the predatory animal is said to be a relative of modern marsupials such as koalas and kangaroos. Marsupials are identified by the fact they carry their offspring in pouches attached to their bodies.

The new species was squat with a flat head. It has been named after famous wildlife illustrator and paleo artist Peter Schouten.

The fossils were discovered at Boodjamulla national park in Riversleigh which is located near the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory. The announcement of this find has followed 20 years of research into ancient marsupial lions after the first discoveries of fossils in the 1980’s.

This new creature is very closely related to the Thylacoleo Canifex; the least ancient known species of marsupial lion. It is said to have had giant, sword-like fangs with the strongest known jaws of any mammal species in history.

That species is believed to have gone extinct approximately 30,000 years ago and may be linked to the overhunting of ancient human beings in Australia. This new species is believed to be far more ancient than one’s previously discovered, being estimated to have gone extinct 19 million years ago.

This species is also much smaller than the other marsupial lions that have been discovered. At 130 kg the other marsupial lions may have been a significant threat to humans at the time, this creature is thought to be no larger than a common dog at 23 kg.

This latest discovery has aided researchers in understanding the decendents of marsupial lions who are believed to have lived in Australia at least 25 million years ago.

Researchers noted that the identification of this new species highlights an increased diversity between species of marsupial lion. It has been suggested that this new fossil demonstrates even deeper roots in the family tree.

Via an examination of the fossilised teeth of the creature palaeontologists have determined this to be one of the most ancient marsupial lions to have been discovered. Despite its small size in comparison to other marsupial lions this creature would still have been a vicious ambush predator in the Australian bush.

While a controversial opinion in some circles, common scientific thought is that giant marsupial species began to go extinct after the arrival of ancient humans in Australia. It is also said that changes in climate would have caused some of these species to go extinct.


10 Things You Didn’t Know about Jurassic Park

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Clever Girl

I don’t know as anyone knew what to think when Jurassic Park, the first and original, hit the theaters. If you compared the first movie to what’s come out now you might be able to pinpoint certain moments when the dinosaurs didn’t move the same way, how they looked a bit different than what came later, and even more. But if you really nitpick that much then you’re either a critic or someone that lives to find every last little mistake in a movie while claiming to do so because you love it. To each their own and all but the first Jurassic Park that came bounding onto the screen was something of a marvel for many people. The roar of the T. rex over the THX sound system was something I remember vividly since you could hear it another theater over and had to wonder just what was going on. Once you sat your butt down in the theater to watch the movie however you understood just what people had been talking about all that time.


The first Jurassic Park was off the hook. Speaking of which, here are 10 things you might not have known about the film:


10. Between the book and the movie paleontology classes experienced a huge upswing in attendance.

Suddenly everyone wanted to know as much as they could about dinosaurs and what was real vs. what was make-believe.


9. The T-Rex had a few glitches.

When it was left out in the rain it experienced a few technical difficulties such as twitching and jerking as though it was alive. It kind of freaked people out.


8. The raptors were initially going to be ten feet tall.

Because they weren’t scary enough at first, obviously. Spielberg wanted to go for an additional freakout it seems.


7. The water on the dash rippled because of a hidden trick.

There were guitar strings under the dash that were strummed to produce the effect. Impact tremors have to be extremely close, which means that the T. rex would have already been on top of them when the ripples started.


6. Harrison Ford turned down the role of Alan Grant.

He didn’t feel like it was the right movie for him, and once he saw it he felt validated that he’d turned it down.


5. In the movie the reason for the triceratops being sick was never given.

In the book the full explanation was given, it was because the animal swallowed the poisonous berries along with a mouthful of stones and then regurgitated them.


4. Michael Crichton didn’t give a lot of thought to the title and the time period it described.

He was grilled about the idea that his story was named Jurassic when the time period that was displayed was the Cretaceous.


3. There had to be safety measures taken around the T. rex.

People had to be warned when it was about to move since it could hit someone with the force of a charging bus.


2. In 2005 a discovery was made that might eventually lead to cloning.

Apparently there were red blood cells and soft tissue found in a T. rex skeleton. But would it really be that good of an idea?


1. When crunching the numbers it was found that the yearly expenses for such a park would be around $12 billion a year.

I can almost see a rich person doing this if it became feasible. Thanks but I’ll watch the newscasts when something goes wrong.

This is the Oldest Fossil of a Plesiosaur From the Dinosaur Era

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

This is the Oldest Fossil of a Plesiosaur From the Dinosaur Era

Plesiosaurs were especially effective swimmers. These long extinct “paddle saurians” propelled themselves through the oceans by employing “underwater flight”—similar to sea turtles and penguins. Paleontologist from the University of Bonn, Germany, together with colleagues from Japan and France, now describe the oldest plesiosaur in the journal Science Advances. The fossil comes from the earliest part of the Triassic period and is about 201 million years old.

Instead of laboriously pushing the water out of the way with their paddles, plesiosaurs glided with limbs modified as underwater wings. They had small heads and long, streamlined necks. Their stout bodies had strong muscles to keep those wings in motion. Compared to other marine reptiles, the tail was short, because it was only used for steering. This evolutionary design was very successful, but curiously, it did not evolve again after the extinction of the plesiosaurs, according to paleontologist Prof. Martin Sander from the Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology of the University of Bonn.

The long-extinct paddle saurians could easily have held their own against today’s water animals. Whereas sea turtles mainly use their strong forelimbs for propulsion, the plesiosaurs moved all four limbs together, resulting in powerful thrust. These ancient animals did not have a shell like turtles, however. Plesiosaurs fed on fish. Numerous fossils document a global distribution of the group during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

The private collector Michael Mertens discovered a truly exceptional specimen during quarrying operations in a clay pit in Westphalia, Germany, in 2013. The subsequent evaluation by the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde in Münster, Germany, revealed that the find represents a marine reptile from the Triassic, the period that predates the Jurassic. This news reached Prof. Sander of the University of Bonn while on sabbatical in Los Angeles. “I could not believe that there was a plesiosaur from the Triassic, given that these animals had been studied by paleontologist for nearly 300 years, and never was there one older than Jurassic,” said Sander.

He also notes that only through the timely and efficient cooperation between the private collector, the natural heritage protection agency, the Münster museum, and the scientists, the unique find could be described and published. The detailed research by Ph.D. student Tanja Wintrich of the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn revealed that the find represents the oldest plesiosaur, at an age of about 201 million years, which makes it the only plesiosaur skeleton from the Triassic period.

Paleontologists Tanja Wintrich and Martin Sander from the University of Bonn inspect the skeleton of Rhaeticosaurus in the laboratory of the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde in Münster (Germany). Credit: Yasuhisa Nakajima

The reconstructed length of the skeleton is 237 cm (7′ 7″) (part of the neck was lost to quarrying). “We are looking at a relatively small plesiosaur,” says Wintrich. The scientists bestowed the name Rhaeticosaurus mertensi on the unique fossil. The first part of the name refers to its geologic age (Rhaetian) and the second part honors the discoverer. Together with scientists from Osaka Natural History Museum, the University of Osaka, the University of Tokyo and the Paris Natural History Museum, the team from Bonn studied a bone sample. First, they examined the interior of the bone using computed tomography. Then they cut thin sections for microscopic study from especially promising parts of the bone.

Based on the growth marks in the bones, the researchers recognized that Rhaeticosaurus was a fast-growing youngster. They compared the thin sections with those from young plesiosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. “Plesiosaurs apparently grew extremely fast before reaching sexual maturity,” says Sander. The paleontologists interprets this as a clear indication that plesiosaurs were warm-blooded. Since plesiosaurs spread quickly all over the world, “they must have been able to regulate their body temperature to be able to invade cooler parts of the ocean,” says the paleontologist. Because of their warm-bloodedness and their efficient locomotion, plesiosaurs were extremely successful and widespread—until they disappeared from the face of the earth. Sander says, “At the end of the Cretaceous, a meteorite impact together with volcanic eruptions lead to an ecosystem collapse, of which plesiosaurs were prominent victims.”

More information: Tanja Wintrich, Shoji Hayashi, Alexandra Houssaye, Yasuhisa Nakajima, P. Martin Sander: A Triassic plesiosaurian skeleton and bone histology inform on evolution of a unique body plan, Science AdvancesDOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701144 ,

Journal reference: Science Advances

Provided by: University of Bonn


Back From the Dead? Jurassic Park Gene Technology Could CLONE Extinct Tasmanian Tiger

Monday, December 18, 2017

Back From the Dead? Jurassic Park Gene Technology Could CLONE Extinct Tasmanian Tiger

AN extinct marsupial “tiger” is to be brought back into existence by an Australian scientists who successfully mapped its genetic sequence.


The tantalising prospect of resurrecting the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine – once the stuff of science fiction movies like Jurassic Park – has taken one step nearer reality following a pioneering study, which as based on examination of the DNA of a female cub preserved in ethanol since 1909.

Andrew Pask, a researcher from the University of Melbourne, which undertook the study, said sequencing the thylacine’s code was a first step in cloning the animal.He explained: “As this genome is one of the most complete for an extinct species, it is technically the first step to ‘bringing the thylacine back’.”

However, Mr Pask sounded a note of caution, adding: “We are still a long way off that possibility. We would need to develop a marsupial model to host the thylacine genome, like work conducted to include mammoth genes in the modern elephant.”

One of the last surviving Tasmanian tigers, pictured in 1930. GETTY

The thylacine – which despite the name, was not closely related to the tiger – became extinct on mainland Australia 3,000 years ago, but survived on the island of Tasmania until the 20th century. It was hunted there relentlessly by European settlers who regarded the animals as a threat to their sheep, with the government offering a bounty of £1 per carcass. The last known specimen, a male known as Benjamin, died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, although the species was not officially declared extinct until 1982.

Scientists have sequenced theTasmanian thylacine’s genetic code, paving the way to clone it. GETTY

However, the study also found that the thylacine was at risk of extinction as a result of a lack of genetic diversity, which meant it had difficulty adapting to changing environmental circumstances. Mr Pask said: “They were actually in pretty bad genetic shape and it wasn’t because of their isolation on Tasmania. It was a longer-term decline in their history. “We certainly made them go extinct — there’s no question about that. But we now know even if [thylacines] were still around today they’d probably be in the same genetic dire circumstances as the Tasmanian devil [another species which is under threat].”

The study – which was published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution – suggests that the thylacine’s genetic health became compromised 70,000 to 120,000 years ago, and that the Tasmanian population became isolated when the island became cut off from the mainland 14,000.On the mainland, its extinction has been blamed on extreme weather conditions and drought.

Thylacines were hunted to extinction on Tasmania by European settlers. GETTY

It could take many years – and a great deal of money – to bring back the thylacine, but Mr Pask still thinks there is a moral responsibility to try.He said: “I think we were responsible for hunting [the species] to extinction – in that case, we almost owe it to the species to bring it back.”Even if they fail however, all may not be completely lost – for, despite being extinct, officially at least, there have been frequent reports of sightings, leading some to claim that small numbers of thylacine may still exist in remote parts of Tasmania.



RUMOR: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may also Feature the Return of Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant

Monday, December 18, 2017

RUMOR: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may also Feature the Return of Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant

Hold on to your butts because it sounds like Jeff Goldblum may not be the only original cast member returning for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as a new rumor is seemingly placing Sam Neill on-set…


They’re moving in herds… They do move in herds

Ever since Universal announced Jurassic World and its upcoming sequels, fans have been clamoring to see some of their favorites from the original trilogy return, especially Sam Neill (Alan Grant), Laura Dern (Ellie Sattler), and Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm). Now, while next year’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made good on bringing back Dr. Ian Malcolm, who’s expected back for a cameo of sorts, there’s been radio silence regarding the other two flagship characters. However, there may be good reason for that.

According to a source, Sam Neill may have actually paid a visit to Pinewood Studios in London – or Shepperton Studios to be exact – in late August, which is coincidentally exactly where J.A. Bayona filmed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He reportedly arrived via a blacked out van and was apparently sporting the same look as his Hunt for the Wilderpeople character, which, in layman’s terms, means he probably had a beard.

Back in July, stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard had completed principal photography on the highly-anticipated sequel, but considering that a film of this magnitude will have months and months of extensive post-production work, there would certainly be more than enough time to fit in a special cameo without much fanfare if they so chose to do so.

Once again, we implore you to take this report with a huge grain of salt.