Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Virtual walking with Dinosaurs…Argentinosaurus takes digital steps!

A digital reconstruction of one of the world’s largest known land animals, the Cretaceous dinosaur Argentinosaurus, has allowed this giant to take its first steps -- albeit virtually -- in over 94 million years. The research  outlined in the journal PLoS ONE, is the most anatomically detailed walking simulation so far for a sauropod dinosaur. The study, undertaken at the University of Manchester, provides the first virtual trackway for Argentinosaurus…whose tracks have not been found (yet!).

The skeleton used in the study shows that the plant-eating dinosaur measured at least 131 feet (nearly 40 metres!) long. The digital reconstruction reveals that it gently lumbered along at around 5 miles per hour (8 kph). “The simulation shows a slow walking gait, which is to be expected, given that the animal weighs 80 tonnes,” lead researcher Dr. Bill Sellers from the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences. “What is interesting is how well the simulated footfall pattern matches up with typical sauropod trackways.”
For the study, Sellers and his colleagues laser scanned the huge dinosaur’s skeleton in Argentina using a Z+F LiDAR Imager. They then used the computer modelling system developed by Sellers (Gaitsym) that uses an equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to complete the necessary calculations to get the dinosaur to digitally walk again. The virtual dinosaur allowed the team to study the vast sauropod dinosaurs locomotion.
The discovery that Argentinosaurus can comfortably walk counters prior speculation that the vast reconstruction was exaggerated and impossibly too large for a terrestrial animal…given this huge dinosaur is at the upper limit of what many models suggested as being functionally possible for terrestrial vertebrates. This research concludes not only that Argentinosaurus could walk, but that it was also at the top of its food chain….in so far it was protected from predators when it was an adult, due to its enormous bulk. Once you hit 80 tonnes, you don’t have to worry about being eaten by predators,” Sellers explained. “We don’t know whether this animal used its long neck to graze over wide areas of low-laying vegetation or for reaching the tops of trees, but from its locomotion we know that it was a slow, steady mover.”
Understanding how such past animals moved may help us to better understand modern day musculoskeletal systems. “If you are trying to understand any body system that is shared by a range of different animals then it is often extremely useful to compare this system across different species,” Sellers explained. “Vertebrate muscles, skeletons and joints work exactly the same way in everything from fish to humans.”
He continued, “The really interesting aspect of dinosaur locomotion is that you are looking at animals that test the limits of the musculoskeletal system simply by virtue of being so big. They have to make compromises and come up with ways of coping that help us to understand the limits and compromises in the human musculoskeletal system.”
Dr. Phil Manning is head of the Palaeontology Research Group at the University of Manchester (School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science) and is a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History also contributed to the study. Manning maintains “Palaeontology is now undergoing a renaissance, with more interdisciplinary approaches, such as this, helping scientists solve long-standing questions.” Manning went on to say “To carefully break down the key components of the locomotion of such vast animals as Argentinosaurus is allowing us greater insight to the biology and physiology of such vast organisms,” Manning also concludes that “The diverse plethora of techniques and technology available to palaeontology today is changing the way we study and interpret the fossil record.”

In the future, the University of Manchester team plan to digitally recreate other dinosaurs, such as Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex, in order to better understand their locomotor ability. Prior simulations by the team of hadrosaur dinosaurs uncovered novel gaits, that included running, skipping and jumping…so watch this space for the first dinosaur pirouette!
Paper download at: from PLoS ONE with this link!

Friday, 25 October 2013

A gathering of scientists....a time to listen and learn.

It is that time of year when geologists, palaeontologists and the many other folks who study the multiple facets of earth and life history....head to conferences. Two of the biggest meetings of the year happen to be running back-to-back in Denver (GSA) and then Los Angeles (SVP). So, in the next week I and a large group from Manchester, will be doing our best to post information on hot topics and entertaining talks....that shed new light on the many respective sciences that combine to deliver a better understanding of our planet's history and the evolution of life on the said rock.

This is a splendid forum where folks can get together and discuss their latest discoveries, new species and de novo techniques that might help our field take steps forward. It is even an excellent forum to discuss the ups and downs of experimental work, given science can often move forward as a function of taking a few steps back. An experiment that does not work or even a simple mistake can often help to open a new door, which otherwise would have remained overlooked. It is fun to think that mistakes in science can be as important as those rare eureka moments!

If I don't have time to blog every can follow the lectures and events on my Twitter account @DrPhilManning

Troodon, by Jon Hoad....just an excuse to put this awesome picture on my blog!

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Date: 25 NOVEMBER 2013.

Registration.10:00am. Main Programme: 10:30- 17:00

The event is for all those who engage with STFC and its facilities and are interested in public engagement with science and technology. The programme for this fully interactive, lively one day event is now shaping up – this is your chance to be inspired by experienced public engagement champions and  to “get the engagement bug.”  Thank you to those who have already registered – 100 and rising daily!  

You will be able to share best practice, take part in hands-on interactive workshops and find out about all of the resources and people that are available to help you.

Public engagement is a vital part of the work of STFC, as will be highlighted in welcomes by STFC Chief Executive Professor John Womersley and Chair of STFC Council, Professor Sir Michael Sterling.  The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor David Eastwood, is also welcoming us.

Keynote speakers confirmed are:
·         Head of Science for the BBC, Andrew Cohen who will be talking on STFC Science and working in partnership with the BBC
·         TV presenter Professor Iain Stewart will cover taking science to the public – new rules of engagement
·         Dr Suzie Sheehy, an accelerator scientist at STFC, will talk about her exciting work covering a decade of public engagement.

There will be a choice of hands-on interactive workshops including:  
New and social media – a practical approach
Diversity: how to reach the hard to reach
Pathways to Impact, the REF and evaluating your public engagement work
Working with schools and young people
Working with the media

There will be exhibits and practical hands on activities during lunch, as well as a chance for you to talk to public engagement experts and find out about what resources are out there to help you.
Whether you are new to public engagement, want to branch out into a new method of engagement or just want to brush up on the latest developments, this is the event of the year for you.

All researchers who engage with STFC and its supported Laboratories/Facilities are welcome. We particularly welcome participation by early career researchers.  Attending can contribute to any researchers’ continuing professional development.

STFC can contribute up to £100 towards reasonable actual travel and subsistence costs to enable STFC-funded PhD students, PDRAs and Postdoctoral Fellows to attend. Please contact Jane Butt to check your eligibility.

Please register as soon as possible and at the latest by Wednesday 18 Nov 2013. Registered delegates will be sent further details and a final programme in early November.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Bright Lights and Dinosaurs...the seminar!

If you happen to be in Manchester this Wednesday lunchtime, why not drop into the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science at the University of Manchester to hear a seminar by yours truly...

My talk is entitled, 'Bright Lights and Dinosaurs', but will cover much, much more than just of vast Mesozoic archosaur beasties. Here is my abstract:

The evolution of life on Earth has given rise to the endless forms most beautiful that weave a complex web of origin, diversification and extinction. Unraveling genomes and reconstructing molecular phylogenies can now measure the evolutionary distance between extant species. However, the fossil remains that litter deep time and record the evolution of all life on Earth are not so easy to characterise   The DNA that so defines life is a fragile molecule, unable to resist even the gentlest of ravages of geological time. The molecule of life is recovered from rare samples no older than 1 million years, but only in exceptional circumstances. The proteome might be the next logical focus, as proteins are more robust and might leave tantalising evidence for the very building blocks of life. Here the frustration is also evident to those who study such ancient molecules, as anything older than 10 million years is rare. Is there another way that we can unpick the biological codec concealed within fossil remains and, even if we could, why does it matter to those of you who study living organisms?

The very atoms that construct biological materials can and do survive the sands of time, else we would not find fossils, but can these atoms be imaged to relay information from a lost world? Recent work has shown there are biomarkers that we can identify and map in both extant and extinct organisms (plants and animals). Such biomarkers are powerful tools when unlocking the puzzle of organismal biology, physiology and the very biosynthetic pathways that built, regulated and drove the evolution of life. Synchrotron-based imaging techniques are allowing us to piece together the complex relationships between trace-metals, rare earth elements and the discrete tissue types that comprise life, both past and present. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


I have finally given in to pressure and decided to start a Twitter account...I am not entirely sure how this will work, as I have to admit this was not high on my list of priorities. However, folks have almost convinced me that a twitter feed might provide insight to my work as a I can instantly post images of experiments, places, people and of course...dinosaurs.

Whether we are at the museum, in a hole in the ground or scanning fossils we will tweet!

This blog will keep going, as I feel this can be much more informative and useful forum to provide a more extensive narrative on my teams work. We have some research trips and meetings coming-up in New York, Denver and Los, I will try and tweet real-time events, but continue writing my blog as a more comprehensive review of projects, events and publications. So, if you want to follow my work, travels and research on Twitter, my username is @drphilmanning