Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jurassic Park 20 years later and other paleontology news

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the release of "Jurassic Park" as well as the release of the 3D version of the film.  This makes for a perfect opportunity to re-examine the science behind the film, as well as what has changed both to make the movie more and less possible during the intervening two decades.

Discovery News on YouTube asks the question Can We Build A Real Jurassic Park?

It's the question on all our minds: WHEN IS JURASSIC PARK HAPPENING?! With all this talk of cloning extinct species and the upcoming twentieth anniversary of Jurassic Park the movie, Anthony takes a look at one man's plan to actually build a real life Jurassic Park... sort of.
Pay attention to how the presenter ties the idea behind Jurassic Park into de-extinction, something I have to follow up on.  Welcome to life imitating art, which means we are indeed living in science fiction times.  It also connects this post to this month's theme, as I teach that biodiversity is a key component of natural capital and part of what the textbook I use lists as part of the scientific basis of sustainability.

While Discovery News updated the biotechnology, CNN describes what paleontologists have found out about the animals since the movie was first released in Real dinosaurs scarier than ones in Jurassic Park.

CNN's Jake Tapper finds out how much we've learned about dinosaurs since the release of "Jurassic Park" in 1993.
While scientists are much more confident about what dinosaurs looked like, feathers and all, Megan Gannon of LiveScience cautions against being so confident about all details in True Color of Dinosaur Feathers Debated.
The discovery of microscopic color-making structures in fossilized feathers has recently made it possible for scientists to picture dinosaurs and ancient birds in their natural hues.

But a group of researchers warns we might not be able to paint a Microraptor shimmery black or give the giant penguin a maroon and gray coat just yet.
I'm sure future anniversaries of the movies will become opportunities for even more reflection on the state of our knowledge.

Follow over the fold for the rest of the paleontology news I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Petition to reverse NASA sequester cuts) and Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Life possible on ancient Mars) on Daily Kos.

Astrobiology via LiveScience: How Ancient Life May Have Come About
Michael Schirber, Astrobiology Magazine Contributor
Date: 29 March 2013 Time: 01:15 PM ET
A family tree unites a diverse group of individuals that all carry genetic vestiges from a single common ancestor at the base of the tree. But this organizational structure falls apart if genetic information is a communal resource as opposed to a family possession.

Some evidence suggests that early evolution may have been based on a collective sharing of genes. A group of researchers are now searching for clear genetic vestiges from this communal ancestry.

But it's hard to shake our fascination with family trees.
Inside Science News Service via LiveScience: Ancient Trilobites Featured Spotted Camouflage
Charles Q Choi, ISNS Contributor
Date: 26 March 2013 Time: 04:06 PM ET
Leopard-like patterns of spots on the shells of extinct horseshoe-crab-like trilobites may be the strongest evidence yet that the ancient armored creatures protected themselves with camouflage, according to researchers.

Trilobites are distant, extinct relatives of lobsters, spiders and insects, resembling horseshoe crabs in appearance. These armored creatures prowled the seas for roughly 270 million years, longer than the age of dinosaurs lasted, and died off more than 250 million years ago, before dinosaurs rose to dominance. New species of trilobites are unearthed every year, making them the single most diverse class of extinct life known.
These leopard-like patterns of brown spots on lightly colored exoskeletons and white dots on darkly colored shells would have served as camouflage to hide from predators looking for a meal on the sea floor.
LiveScience: Massive Extinction Fueled Rise of Crocodiles
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 26 March 2013 Time: 08:01 PM ET
A massive extinction between the Triassic and Jurassic eras paved the way for the rise of the crocodiles, new research suggests.

The researchers, who detail their work today (March 26) in the journal Biology Letters, found that although nearly all the crocodilelike archosaurs, known as pseudosuchia, died off about 201 million years ago, the one lineage that survived soon diversified to occupy land and sea. The lineage included the ancestors of all modern crocodiles and alligators.

"Even though almost all the lineages except for one was extinct, the remaining survivors still did well in terms of morphology and body plans and the whole morphological diversity," said study co-author Olja Toljagic', an evolutionary biology researcher who was at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich at the time of the study.
LiveScience: Hundreds of Dinosaur Egg Fossils Found
by LiveScience Staff
Date: 14 March 2013

Researchers in northeastern Spain say they've uncovered hundreds of dinosaur egg fossils, including four kinds that had never been found before in the region. The eggs likely were left behind by sauropods millions of years ago.

Eggs, eggshell fragments and dozens of clutches were nestled in the stratigraphic layers of the Tremp geological formation at the site of Coll de Nargó in the Spanish province of Lleida, which was a marshy region during the Late Cretaceous Period, the researchers said.

"Eggshells, eggs and nests were found in abundance and they all belong to dinosaurs, sauropods in particular," the study's leader, Albert García Sellés from the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Palaeontology Institute, told Spanish news agency SINC this week.
LiveScience: Early Birds Sported 4 Wings
Tanya Lewis
14 March 2013
More than 100 million years ago, birds living in what is now China sported wings on their legs, a new study of fossils suggests.

Researchers found evidence of large leg feathers in 11 bird specimens from China's Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature. The feathers suggest that early birds had four wings, which may have played a role in the evolution of flight, scientists report in a study published today (March 14) in the journal Science.

Most scientists believe that birds evolved from other feathered dinosaurs; this belief is supported by discoveries of fossils of feathery birdlike creatures. In 2000, scientists discovered a nonavian dinosaur with feathers on its arms and legs, called Microraptor, which could probably fly. In addition, specimens of Archaeopteryx, a transitional fossil between modern birds and feathered dinosaurs, show faint featherlike structures on their legs, but the signs are poorly preserved.
LiveScience: Little Bitty Ancient Mammal Unearthed in Japan
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 26 March 2013 Time: 08:01 PM ET
Paleontologists in Japan have unearthed the jaw of a primitive mammal from the early Cretaceous period.

The pint-size creature, named Sasayamamylos kawaii for the geologic formation in Japan where it was found, is about 112 million years old and belongs to an ancient clade known as Eutherian mammals, which gave rise to all placental mammals. (A clade is a group of animals that share uniquely evolved features and therefore a common ancestry.)

The jaw sports pointy, sharp teeth and molars in a proportion similar to that found in modern mammals, said paleontologist Brian Davis of Missouri Southern State University, who was not involved in the study.
LiveScience: Found: Africa's Oldest Penguins
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 26 March 2013 Time: 11:16 AM ET

Penguin fossils from 10 million to 12 million years ago have been unearthed in South Africa, the oldest fossil evidence of these cuddly, tuxedoed birds in Africa.

The new discovery, detailed in the March 26 issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, could shed light on why the number of penguin species plummeted on Africa's coastline from four species 5 million years ago to just one today — Spheniscus demersus, or the jackass penguin, known for their donkeylike calls.
The discovery pushes back the penguin fossil record in Africa by at least 5 million years.
LiveScience: 5-Million-Year-Old Saber-Toothed Cat Fossil Discovered
Tanya Lewis
15 March 2013
A new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat has been found in Polk County, Fla., scientists say.

The fossil, which is 5 million years old, is related to the well-known carnivorous predator Smilodon fatalis from the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles. The group of saber-toothed cats called Smilodontini was thought to have originated in the Old World and later migrated to North America, but the new species' age suggests the group evolved in North America, researchers reported March 13 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Although Smilodon appears in the fossil record about 2.5 million years ago, there weren't many intermediate forms to tell scientists where it originated, according to study co-author Richard Hulbert Jr., vertebrate paleontology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The newly named species is called Rhizosmilodon fiteae.

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