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. 

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