Dinosaur age plants, new research


This BBC video is called David Attenborough‘s Kingdom of Plants.

From Lund University in Sweden:

Through fossil leaves, a step towards Jurassic Park

July 4, 2017

Summary: The relationships between 200-million-year-old plants have been established for the first time, based on chemical fingerprints. Using infrared spectroscopy and statistical analysis of organic molecules in fossil leaves, they are opening up new perspectives on the dinosaur era.

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in establishing the relationships between 200-million-year-old plants based on chemical fingerprints. Using infrared spectroscopy and statistical analysis of organic molecules in fossil leaves, they are opening up new perspectives on the dinosaur era.

The unique results stem from a collaboration between researchers at Lund University, the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, and Vilnius University.

“We have solved many questions regarding these extinct plants’ relationships. These are questions that science has long been seeking answers to,” says Vivi Vajda, a professor at the Department of Geology at Lund University and active at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

The researchers have collected fossil leaves from rocks in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Greenland. Using molecular spectroscopy and chemical analysis, the fossil leaves were then compared with the chemical signatures from molecules in plant leaves picked at the Botanical Garden in Lund.

The use of genetic DNA analysis in modern research to determine relationships is not possible on fossil plants. The oldest DNA fragments ever found are scarcely one million-years-old. Therefore, the scientists searched for organic molecules to see what these could reveal about the plants’ evolution and relationships.

The molecules were found in the waxy membrane, which covers the leaves and these showed to differ between various species. The membrane has been preserved in the fossil leaves, some of which are 200 million-years-old.

Using infrared spectroscopy, the researchers carried out analyses in several stages. Firstly, they examined leaves from living plants that have relatives preserved in the fossil archive. The analysis showed that the biomolecular signatures were similar among plant groups, much in the same way as shown by modern genetic DNA analysis.

When the method was shown to work on modern plants, the researchers went on to analyse their extinct fossil relatives. Among others, they examined fossil leaves from conifers and several species of Ginkgo. The only living species of Ginkgo alive today is Ginkgo biloba, but this genus was far more diverse during the Jurassic.

“The results from the fossil leaves far exceeded our expectations, not only were they full of organic molecules, they also grouped according to well-established botanical relationships, based on DNA analysis of living plants i.e. Ginkgoes in one group, conifers in another,” says Vivi Vajda.

Finally, when the researchers had shown that the method gave consistent results, they analysed fossils of enigmatic extinct plants that have no living relatives to compare them with. Among others, they examined Bennettites and Nilssonia, plants that were common in the area that is now Sweden during the Triassic and Jurassic around 250-150 million years ago. The analysis showed that Bennettites and Nilssonia are closely related. On the other hand, they are not closely related to cycads, which many researchers had thought until now.

Per Uvdal, Professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University and one of the researchers who conducted the study, considers that the overall results are astounding.

“The great thing about the biomolecules in the leaves’ waxy membranes is that they are so much more stable than DNA. As they reflect, in an indirect way, a plant’s DNA can preserve information about the DNA. Therefore, the biomolecules can tell us how one plant is related in evolutionary terms to other plants,” he says.

The researchers are now going to extend their studies to more plant groups.

Gigantic Jurassic crocodile discovered in Madagascar


This video from Italy says about itself:

Reconstructing the skull of Razanandrongobe sakalavae

4 July 2017

Computed tomography of the fossil cranial bones of Razanandrongobe sakalavae (this is the name of this Jurassic crocodylomorph) provided information on the tooth replacement process and tooth/root size. The largest dentary tooth is 14 cm long and the largest premaxillary tooth measures 15 cm. CT data also allowed to 3-D print the missing counterlateral bones at FabLab Milan, and so to reconstruct the front of the skull at the Natural History Museum of Milan. Technician Andrea Passoni mounts the bone pieces.

Video: Cristiano Dal Sasso.

From ScienceDaily:

Gigantic crocodile with T. rex teeth was a top land predator of the Jurassic in Madagascar

Paleontologists document the features of a giant crocodile relative — the largest and oldest known ‘notosuchian‘, predating the other forms by 42 million years

July 4, 2017

Summary: Little is known about the origin and early evolution of the Notosuchia, hitherto unknown in the Jurassic period. New research on fossils from Madagascar begin to fill the gap in a million-year-long ghost lineage. Deep and massive jaw bones armed with enormous serrated teeth that are similar in size and shape to those of a T. rex strongly suggest that these animals fed also on hard tissue such as bone and tendon.

Little is known about the origin and early evolution of the Notosuchia, hitherto unknown in the Jurassic period. New research on fossils from Madagascar, published in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ by Italian and French paleontologists, begin to fill the gap in a million-year-long ghost lineage.

Deep and massive jaw bones armed with enormous serrated teeth that are similar in size and shape to those of a T-rex strongly suggest that these animals fed also on hard tissue such as bone and tendon. The full name of the predatory crocodyliform (nicknamed ‘Razana’) is Razanandrongobe sakalavae, which means “giant lizard ancestor from Sakalava region.”

A combination of anatomical features clearly identify this taxon as a Jurassic notosuchian, close to the South American baurusuchids and sebecids, that were highly specialized predators of terrestrial habits, different from present-day crocodilians in having a deep skull and powerful erect limbs. “Like these and other gigantic crocs from the Cretaceous, ‘Razana’ could outcompete even theropod dinosaurs, at the top of the food chain,” says Cristiano Dal Sasso, of the Natural History Museum of Milan.

Razanandrongobe sakalavae is by far the oldest — and possibly the largest — representative of the Notosuchia, documenting one of the earliest events of exacerbated increase in body size along the evolutionary history of the group.

“Its geographic position during the period when Madagascar was separating from other landmasses is strongly suggestive of an endemic lineage. At the same time, it represents a further signal that the Notosuchia originated in southern Gondwana,” remarks co-author Simone Maganuco.

Old dinosaur, new research


This video is called Megalosaurus Tribute – You’re Going Down.

From the University of Warwick in England:

World’s ‘first named dinosaur’ reveals new teeth with scanning tech

June 7, 2017

Summary: Pioneering technology has shed fresh light on the world’s first scientifically-described dinosaur fossil — over 200 years after it was first discovered — thanks to research.

Pioneering technology has shed fresh light on the world’s first scientifically-described dinosaur fossil — over 200 years after it was first discovered — thanks to research by WMG at the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History.

Professor Mark Williams at WMG has revealed five previously unseen teeth in the jawbone of the Megalosaurus — and that historical repairs on the fossil may have been less extensive than previously thought.

Using state of the art CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software, Professor Williams took more than 3000 X-ray images of the world-famous Megalosaurus jawbone, creating a digital three-dimensional image of the fossil.

In an unprecedented level of analysis, Professor Williams at WMG was able to see inside the jawbone for the first time, tracing the roots of teeth and the extent of different repairs.

Some damage occurred to the specimen when it was removed from the rock, possibly shortly after it was discovered.

Records at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History suggest that some restoration work may have been undertaken by a museum assistant between 1927 and 1931, while repairing the specimen for display — but there are no details about the extent of the repairs or the materials used.

The scans have revealed previously unseen teeth that were growing deep within the jaw before the animal died — including the remains of old, worn teeth and also tiny newly growing teeth.

The scans also show the true extent of repairs on the fossil for the first time, revealing that there may have been at least two phases of repair, using different types of plaster. This new information will help the museum make important decisions about any future restoration work on the specimen.

This research was made possible through a collaboration between Professor Williams’ research group at WMG, University of Warwick — including PhD researcher Paul Wilson — and Professor Paul Smith, director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Professor Williams commented: “Being able to use state-of-the-art technology normally reserved for aerospace and automotive engineering to scan such a rare and iconic natural history specimen was a fantastic opportunity.

“When I was growing up I was fascinated with dinosaurs and clearly remember seeing pictures of the Megalosaurus jaw in books that I read. Having access to and scanning the real thing was an incredible experience.”

The Megalosaurus jawbone is on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History alongside other bones from the skeleton.

Megalosaurus — which means ‘Great Lizard’ — was a meat-eating dinosaur which lived in the Middle Jurassic, around 167 million years ago. It would have been about 9 metres long and weighed about 1.4 tonnes (1400 kg).

The research was recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference in Torino, Italy.

See also here.

Jurassic dinosaurs, new study


This 1 July 2016 video from Utah in the USA is called Unlocking the mystery of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

From PeerJ:

New data for old bones: How the famous Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur bone bed came to be

Scientists have debated for decades the origin of the densest collection of Jurassic dinosaur bones; X-ray and chemical analyses by paleontologists begin to unravel the mystery

June 6, 2017

Summary: The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is the densest collection of Jurassic dinosaur fossils. Since its discovery in the 1920s, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of the quarry. Were the dinosaurs poisoned? Did they die due to drought? Were they trapped in quick sand? A new study suggests that the quarry represents numerous mortality events which brought the dinosaurs to the site over time, rather than a single fatal event.

The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is the densest collection of Jurassic dinosaur fossils. Unlike typical Jurassic bone beds, it is dominated by the famous predatory dinosaur Allosaurus.

Since its discovery in the 1920s, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of the quarry. Were the dinosaurs poisoned? Did they die due to drought? Were they trapped in thick mud?

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ introduces modern techniques to better understand the landmark site’s history, suggesting that the quarry represents numerous mortality events which brought the dinosaurs to the site over time, rather than a single fatal event.

This study reveals that the small bone fragments were created during drought periods by weathering and erosion of bones disintegrating at the surface. During flood periods, however, the carcasses of Allosaurus and other dinosaurs washed in and rotted in a small pond, creating an environment in which fish, turtles, and crocodiles could not survive, and other dinosaurs would not eat the carcasses.

The data generated from new and innovative methods, including chemical analyses and the study of microscopic bone fragments, suggest that dinosaur bones were introduced to the deposit after death. This would also explain the unusual lack of typical pond fossils at the site, as well as the near lack of gnaw marks on bones and calcite and barite concretions found on bones excavated from the quarry.

The new hypothesis helps paleontologists understand the setting of the quarry, and to begin to unravel the mystery that led to this unique, Allosaurus-dominated bone bed.

Feathered dinosaurs, new research


This video says about itself:

29 July 2015

“Anchiornis” is a genus of small, feathered, eumaniraptoran dinosaurs. The genus “Anchiornis” contains only the type species “Anchiornis huxleyi“. It was named in honor of Thomas Henry Huxley, an early proponent of biological evolution, and the first to propose a close evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs. The generic name “Anchiornis” means “near bird”, and its describers cited it as important in filling a gap in the transition between the body plans of birds and dinosaurs.

“Anchiornis huxleyi” fossils have been found in the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning, China, in rocks dated to the late Jurassic period, 161.0–160.5 million years ago.

Given the exquisite preservation of one of the animal’s fossils, “Anchiornis huxleyi” became the first dinosaur species for which almost the entire life coloration could be determined.

“Anchiornis huxleyi” was a small, paravian dinosaur with a triangular skull bearing several details in common with dromaeosaurids and troodontids. “Anchiornis” had very long legs, usually an indication that they were strong runners. However, the extensive leg feathers indicate that this may be a vestigial trait, as running animals tend to have reduced, not increased, hair or feathers on their legs. The forelimbs of “Anchiornis” were also very long, similar to archaeopterygids.

The first fossil was recovered from the Yaolugou locality, Jianchang County, western Liaoning, China; the second, at the Daxishan locality of the same area. The deposits are lake sediment, and are of uncertain age. Radiological measurements indicate an early Late Jurassic age for them, between 161 and 151 million years ago.

From Science News:

Under lasers, a feathered dino shows some skin

Geochemical fluorescence method illuminates Anchiornis soft tissue, but some remain skeptical

By Helen Thompson

2:40pm, March 20, 2017

What happens when you shoot lasers at a dinosaur fossil? Some chemicals preserved in the fossil glow, providing a nuanced portrait of the ancient creature’s bones, feathers and soft tissue such as skin.

Soft tissue is rarely preserved in fossils, and when it is, it can be easily obscured. A technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence “excites the few skin atoms left in the matrix, making them glow to reveal what the shape of the dinosaur actually looked like,” says Michael Pittman, a paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Pittman and colleagues turned their lasers on Anchiornis, a four-winged dinosaur about the size of a pigeon with feathered arms and legs. It lived around 160 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. The researchers imaged nine specimens under laser light and used the photos to reconstruct a model of Anchiornis that shows an exceedingly birdlike body, the team writes March 1 in Nature Communications.

In the crooks of its elbows and wrists, the dinosaur had what looks like taut tissues called patagia, a feature in modern bird wings. “The wings of Anchiornis are reminiscent of the wings of some living gliding and soaring birds,” Pittman says. Plus, the images capture minute details like feather follicles and scales, and confirm some characteristics of Anchiornis long surmised by scientists: that it had drumstick-shaped legs, pads on the balls of its feet and a slim tail.

Still, it’s unclear what geochemicals are actually fluorescing in the fossils because the team didn’t perform any chemical analyses to determine the organic compounds or minerals present. “The images are very cool,” says Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. But, she cautions, a few hurdles remain, including testing fluorescence in different fossil types and verifying how skin glows under laser light in modern bird fossils.

Scientists normally rely on light-based methods and skeletal data to reconstruct the appearance of dinosaurs and other ancient creatures. Ultraviolet fluorescence works similarly to the new method, but the laser technique captures greater resolution. If laser-stimulated fluorescence lives up to its promise, it could help discern fossilized features that are invisible to the naked eye.

Functional form

Drawing from Anchiornis fossil specimens housed in a Chinese museum, researchers used measurements from laser-stimulated fluorescence images to create a more refined outline of the dinosaur’s body.

Major breakthrough in knowledge of dinosaur appearance: palaeontologist reconstructs feathered dinosaurs in the flesh with new technology: here.

Dinosaur soft tissue discovery


This video from the USA says about itself:

7 March 2016

Mary Higby Schweitzer is a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, who is known for leading the groups that discovered the remains of blood cells in dinosaur fossils and later discovered soft tissue remains in a Tyrannosaurus rex specimen.

From AFP news agency:

Dino rib yields evidence of oldest soft tissue remains

January 31, 2017

The rib of a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that lived 195 million years ago has yielded what may be the oldest remains of soft tissue ever recovered, scientists said Tuesday.

The find promises a chance to extract rare clues about the biology and evolution of long-extinct animals, a team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Such information is mostly missing from preserved hard skeletons, which form the bulk of the fossil record.

“We have shown the presence of protein preserved in a 195 million-year-old dinosaur, at least 120 million years older than any other similar discovery,” study co-author Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto Mississauga, told AFP.

“These proteins are the building blocks of animal soft tissues, and it’s exciting to understand how they have been preserved,” he added.

Reisz and a team scanned a rib bone of Lufengosaurus, a common dinosaur in the Early Jurassic period. Fully grown, these lizards

Dinosaurs are not really closely related to lizards.

measured about eight metres (26 feet).

The researchers used a photon beam at the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center in Taiwan to examine the insides of the bone, specifically its chemical contents.

They found evidence of collagen proteins within tiny canals in the rib and concluded they were “probably remnants of the blood vessels that supplied blood to the bone cells in the living dinosaur.”

Most previous studies had extracted organic remains by dissolving away other parts of the fossil, the team said.

With the synchrotron method, this is not necessary, and even older remains may be uncovered without damaging dinosaur bones in future.

Does it bring us any closer to recovering DNA from which dinosaurs may one day be cloned?

“No, that is still fantasy,” said Reisz.

The previous oldest find of suspected and collagen fibres was reported in 2013, in that lived about 75 million years ago.

Proteins and other organic remains usually decay soon after an animal dies. During fossilisation, the space they occupied within bone is filled by mineral deposits carried by groundwater.

Finding fossilised soft tissue is very rare indeed.

Plesiosaur skeleton put together again in England


This video from England says about itself:

23 January 2016

A rare 165 million year old plesiosaur found in Peterborough will be studied by experts at a natural history museum to see if it is a previously unknown species.

The 5.5 metre long marine reptile, nicknamed ‘Eve’, was found at Must Farm quarry by palaeontologists from the Oxford Clay Working Group in November 2014. It is now being studied at the Museum and may prove to be a previously unknown species of plesiosaur.

Plesiosaurs were long-necked sea creatures that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. They died out 66 million years ago.

The specimen, discovered at a site owned by building product manufacturer Forterra, was first spotted by Oxford Clay Working Group member Carl Harrington who noticed a tiny fragment of bone sticking out of the clay. Over the course of four days, Carl and eight others dug up more than 600 pieces of fossilised bone. Carl then spent over 400 hours cleaning and repairing the specimen.

Carl Harrington said: “I’d never seen so much bone in one spot in a quarry. As I was digging amongst the wet clay, the snout of a plesiosaur started to appear in front of me. It was one of those absolute ‘wow’ moments – I was the first human to come face to face with this reptile.”

The newly-discovered plesiosaur had a 2.5 metre long neck, a barrel-shaped body, four flippers and a short tail. Its skull is still preserved inside a block of clay, and the painstaking task of removing it will now be undertaken at the Museum.

Dr James Neenan, a research fellow at the Museum, and Professor John Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College have CT-scanned the block to revealthe location of the bones inside. This will aid the removal of the skull from the clay.

On 27 January, visiting secondary school pupils will get the chance to see the plesiosaur find for themselves and to ask our Earth Collections manager Dr Hilary Ketchum about it.

“We are so excited that the plesiosaur has come to the Museum where it will be used for research, education and display,” says Dr Ketchum.

From the BBC:

Plesiosaur ‘sea monster’ bones put back together

13 February 2016

A Jurassic “sea monster” found in a quarry is taking shape as scientists carry out the painstaking task of putting together hundreds of bones.

A museum team has now put 165 million-year-old plesiosaur “Eve” together, although a few bones are missing and the skull is still embedded in clay.

They hope to put her on show but admitted she is too long and heavy for any of their current display cases.

Plesiosaurs were sea creatures that died out 66 million years ago.

The “fantastic fossil” was discovered at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, by archaeologists from Oxford Clay Working Group.

It has an 8ft (2.5m)-long neck, a barrel-shaped body, four flippers and a short tail.

They named the creature Eve, as it was their first major find.

Bone ‘puzzle’

However, scientists at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, to which the bones were donated, are unable to confirm the sex of the plesiosaur.

“We might never know,” palaeontologist Dr Hilary Ketchum said.

“It is very difficult to tell between males and females in the fossil record because soft parts are rarely preserved.

“The only definite female plesiosaur ever found was one that was discovered with a foetus preserved inside.”

Dr Ketchum was tasked with putting together the “puzzle” of more than 600 pieces of bone uncovered by archaeologist Dr Carl Harrington and his team.

When various pieces were glued they were left with 232 bones plus the skull, which is still preserved in a block of clay.

Gradually, using the archaeologists’ notes and Dr Ketchum’s “own knowledge of plesiosaur anatomy”, Eve began to take shape.

A number of bones are missing including the thigh bones and parts of the tail, Dr Ketchum said.

The “delicate task” of removing the skull bones could take several months.

‘New species’

The clay block which encases them was CT-scanned to help scientists extract the bones without causing damage. So far they have exposed part of the lower jaw and the back of the skull near the neck.

Eventually they hope to release a time-lapse video of the process.

Scientists have said Eve could prove to be a new species of plesiosaur, as she has anatomical features that differ from other plesiosaurs found in the Oxford Clay.

The Jurassic sediment lies under parts of England from as far west as Dorset and north to Yorkshire – taking in the Peterborough area which was Eve’s last resting place.

Eve’s upper and lower arm bones and wrist show some differences, as do parts of the neck vertebrae, Dr Ketchum said.

“It is possible this is because Eve is a new species, however, we still have lots more research to do before we can be sure.”

The museum hopes to put Eve on temporary display in the autumn, however, first they have one large problem to solve.

“Eve is the biggest and most complete plesiosaur specimen that we have. Our largest display case is just over four metres long, so it’s not quite big enough for Eve to be displayed entirely straight,” Dr Ketchum said.

“We might have to bend the neck around a little.”

Eve was donated to the Oxford museum by Cambridgeshire landowners Forterra.

Plesiosaurs (Plesiosauroidea)

66 million years ago plesiosaurs became extinct

76 vertebrae in their necks – mammals such as humans and giraffes have just seven

5mph (8.2km/h) the top swimming speed of the creature

6m the average length

660lb (300kg) the approximate weight

Dr Roger Benson/BBC Nature