Dinosaur embryo's on acid?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The flight to the UK was thankfully uneventful. The food was predictably scary and the atmosphere thick by the time we arrived in Manchester. I think two hours sleep is as much can be expected on a trans-Atlantic in bucket class. I forced myself to sleep, as I knew I would soon have to be functioning on UK-time...a nasty prospect when flying West to East.

Arriving to an overcast and cold morning in Manchester, I was soon through customs, acquired luggage and headed for the train to Manchester. At 10am I was stood in my office, slightly phased...and then the day could begin, albeit cheated of a good nights sleep.

My first port of call in Manchester was Dr Roy Wogelius, an inorganic geochemist in the School of Earth, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences. He has been leading on several papers within the palaeontology research group, on the preservation of soft tissue in the fossil record. Roy is a good colleague and a great friend who has provided a paradigm shift in my understanding of what happens when you bury a lump of animal in the ground. This might sound a simple thing to answer, but the pathways of elements around and within this system is not fully understood and are critical to our understanding of what happens when you bury anything in the ground. In our world of waste and pollutants, this question of what happens when you bury something is vital. This is the world of the science of taphonomy (literally meaning 'burial laws').

Roy and many others in the palaeontology research group have been working on everything from 65 million year old dinosaur skin, 120 million year old feathers, 50 million year old lizard skin to 80 million year old dinosaur egg shell (with bits of embryonic skin with bone preserved inside!). We are keen to quantify which elements in the fossils have remained relatively stable (and in place) since the tissue (bone, skin, etc) were originally formed and which components came from the processes associated with the fossilisation of the said tissues. What appeared a simple question of mapping and identifying the composition of the fossils, has become a major research program for the Manchester group over the past 5 years.

This work all started when I was having lunch with colleagues and we started talking about the 'mummified' dinosaur that had been discovered in North Dakota. Roy was sat at the table and joined in the conversation, as we munched our way through our curries. It was clear that he would make a major contribution to the research program...and that has to be the biggest understatement I have ever made! He has dragged me into the world of geochemistry and its a journey that I am thoroughly enjoying, albeit it quite hard get my head around sometimes (nothing that a good read cannot put right). The early work we undertook on the dinosaur mummy was published last year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B (Manning et al 2009) and signified the start of my submersion into geochemistry.

For more information related to dinosaurs, visit rareresource.com.


Post a Comment