A Jurassic Park Theory Delivers a Fitting Origin for Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady

Monday, October 11, 2021

A fan theory suggests an iconic Jurassic Park scene links Dr. Alan Grant to Jurassic World's Owen Grady, and it just might hold up.

The original Jurassic Park is a beloved film that kickstarted a franchise still releasing new movies and TV shows even now. As more content releases, the lore surrounding the franchise grows as well. Now, events in the more recent Jurassic World films tie directly into characters and plot threads from the earlier films, including Dr. Wu and the original T-Rex. However, one theory believes that a character who appeared in the first film grew up to become a raptor trainer, Owen Grady.

According to the theory, the character that would become Owen was actually listed as "Volunteer Boy" in the credits. He appears early in Jurassic Park when Dr. Alan Grant breaks down the velociraptor fossil he just found. While he presents more evidence to prove raptors are more related to birds than reptiles, a young boy mocks his theory and says it looks more like a "six-foot turkey." Everyone lets out a small chuckle, but Dr. Grant shows a clear annoyance at the boy's comment.

Dr. Grant uses the opportunity to educate the young boy by describing how a raptor feeds and hunts. By using his fossilized claw, he mentions how raptors attack from the sides and use their massive foot nail to gut their prey while it's still alive. He then concludes his speech by telling the boy to have some respect. It's established after the scene that Dr. Grant doesn't have much affection for children and has no real plans to be a father, which explains his uncensored description and lack of regard for the boy's feelings.

Chronologically, the Volunteer Boy would be around 35 during the events of Jurassic World, which is also the age of Chris Pratt at the time. Owen also explains that training a raptor is about respect for one another. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom further adds to the theory by showing how deep his affection for Blue and her sisters, working with them even when they were children. The amount of respect he has for them would prove that Dr. Grant's talk deeply affected him, and rather than run from his fear, he faced it, understood it and grew to love it.

When director Colin Trevorrow was questioned about the theory and whether or not it's true, he preferred not to answer. Instead, he decided it was best to be left ambiguous and to keep the fun of the mystery alive. The best part about the theory is that it doesn't drastically change the franchise's narrative, so even if it is true, it only adds to the series and makes it that much more enjoyable for fans to watch.

The Jurassic Park franchise has become even more beloved as the years go on. From its amazing effects to a deeply layered story on ethics, the film has something for all ages. Now, with this theory making the rounds, even fans who thought they'd seen everything have something new to speculate. But with Jurassic World: Dominion coming soon, the answer to the mystery could come sooner rather than later.


Pendraig milnerae: New Small-Sized Carnivorous Dinosaur Unearthed in Wales

Friday, October 8, 2021

Life reconstruction of Pendraig milnerae among the fissures of Pant-y-ffynnon and three individuals of the rhynchocephalian lepidosaur Clevosaurus cambrica during the Late Triassic epoch. Image credit: James Robbins.

Paleontologists have described a new genus and species of coelophysoid theropod dinosaur from the Late Triassic deposits of Pant-y-ffynnon in southern Wales.

The new dinosaur species, named Pendraig milnerae, lived during the Late Triassic period, between 200 and 215 million years ago.

Pendraig meaning ‘Chief Dragon’ in Middle Welsh, a reference to the species’ likely position as an apex predator of the area and its discovery in Wales, and milnerae honoring Dr. Angela Milner,” explained Dr. Stephan Spiekman, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, London.

“Angela was really important in the Museum for many years, she was not only the premier dinosaur researcher but also in a senior administrative position as Deputy Keeper of Palaeontology when women didn’t generally occupy such roles in the Museum, so for me as a student it was really important,” added Dr. Susannah Maidment, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum, London.

“She really inspired me and was incredibly helpful when I joined the Museum. She went out of her way to show me the ropes, and that goes for me and so many others, including three of the authors of this paper.”

Pendraig milnerae is the earliest example of a theropod found in the United Kingdom so far.

It likely had a body size around that of a modern-day chicken and would have been a 1 m long including its tail.

“The area where these specimens were found was most likely an island during the time period in which it lived,” Dr. Spiekman said.

“Species which live on islands often tend to become smaller than those on the mainland in a phenomenon called island dwarfism.”

“Because the fossil reptiles from this area, including Pendraig milnerae, are all quite small-sized, we used statistical analyses to investigate whether Pendraig milnerae might have been an insular dwarf.”

“The results indicate that Pendraig milnerae is indeed small, even for a theropod of that time period, but not uniquely so.”

“Furthermore, based on several characters on the bones, we were able to determine that, although the specimens of Pendraig milnerae were not very young, they were also likely not fully grown. So Pendraig milnerae might have gotten somewhat bigger than the specimens we have so far, which limits our ability to perform reliable body size analyses.”

“With this in mind, we need more evidence from more species to investigate the potential for island dwarfism in this area during that time, but if we could prove it, it would be the earliest known occurrence of this evolutionary phenomenon.”

The fragmentary fossils of Pendraig milnerae. Image credit: Spiekman et al., doi: 10.1098/rsos.210915.

The fragmentary fossils of Pendraig milnerae consist of an articulated pelvic girdle, sacrum and posterior dorsal vertebrae, and an associated left femur, and two referred specimens, comprising an isolated dorsal vertebra and a partial left ischium.

“Dinosaur discoveries are really rare in Wales, and this is only the third dinosaur species known from the country,” said Professor Richard Butler, a paleobiologist at the University of Birmingham.

“It’s very exciting to learn more about the dinosaurs that lived here in the United Kingdom during the Triassic, right at the dawn of dinosaur evolution.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


Stephan N.F. Spiekman et al. 2021. Pendraig milnerae, a new small-sized coelophysoid theropod from the Late Triassic of Wales. R. Soc. open sci 8 (10): 210915; doi: 10.1098/rsos.210915


Huge Hippos Roamed Britain One Million Years Ago

Friday, October 8, 2021

The left first upper molar of Hippopotamus antiquus from the Early Pleistocene Siliceous Member in Westbury Cave, Somerset, England. Image credit: Neil Adams / University of Leicester.

Paleontologists have found a million-year-old hippo tooth at the site of Westbury Cave in Somerset, England. This fossil constitutes the earliest bona fide record of Hippopotamus in the United Kingdom.

The fossilized upper molar tooth from Westbury Cave belongs to Hippopotamus antiquus, an extinct species of hippo that lived in Europe during a particularly warm period between 2 and 1 million years ago.

The species was much larger than the modern African hippo, weighing around 3 tons, and was even more reliant on aquatic habitats than its living relative.

“It was very exciting to come across a hippo tooth during our recent excavations at Westbury Cave,” said Dr. Neil Adams, a paleontologist in the Centre for Palaeobiology Research at the University of Leicester and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“It is not only the first record of hippo from the site, but also the first known hippo fossil from any site in Britain older than 750,000 years.”

“Erosion caused by the coming and going of ice sheets, as well as the gradual uplift of the land, has removed large parts of the deposits of this age in Britain.”

“Our comparisons with sites across Europe show that Westbury Cave is an important exception and the new hippo dates to a previously unrecognized warm period in the British fossil record.”

Paleontologists know remarkably little about the fauna, flora and environments in Britain between about 1.8 and 0.8 million years ago, a key period when early humans were beginning to occupy Europe.

But the new research is helping to fill in this gap. It shows that during this interval there were periods warm and wet enough to allow hippos to migrate all the way from the Mediterranean to southern England.

“Hippos are not only fabulous animals to find but they also reveal evidence about past climates,” said Professor Danielle Schreve, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway.

“Many megafaunal species (those over a ton in weight) are quite broadly tolerant of temperature fluctuations but in contrast, we know modern hippos cannot cope with seasonally frozen water bodies.”

“Our research has demonstrated that in the fossil record, hippos are only found in Britain during periods of climatic warmth, when summer temperatures were a little warmer than today but most importantly, winter temperatures were above freezing.”

The study was published in the Journal of Quaternary Science.


Neil F. Adams et al. An Early Pleistocene hippopotamus from Westbury Cave, Somerset, England: support for a previously unrecognized temperate interval in the British Quaternary record. Journal of Quaternary Science, published online October 4, 2021; doi: 10.1002/jqs.3375


Paleontologists Find Ancient Tardigrade in Dominican Amber

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Artistic reconstruction of Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus. Image credit: Holly Sullivan.

Paleontologists have described a new genus and species of tardigrade found in a 16-million-year-old piece of amber from the Dominican Republic. Named Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, it is the third fossil tardigrade from Miocene-period Dominican amber, the first tardigrade fossil described from the Cenozoic Era, and the first unambiguous fossil representative of the diverse tardigrade superfamily Isohypsibioidea.

Tardigrades are a diverse group of charismatic microscopic invertebrates that are best known for their ability to survive extreme conditions.

Despite their long evolutionary history and global distribution in both aquatic and terrestrial environments, the tardigrade fossil record is exceedingly sparse.

Due to their microscopic size and non-biomineralizing body, the chance of tardigrades to become fossilized is small.

“Tardigrade fossils are rare. With our new study, the full tally includes only four specimens, from which only three are formally described and named, including Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus,” said Professor Javier Ortega-Hernández, a researcher in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

“The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” added Dr. Phil Barden, a researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at New Jersey Institute of Technology and the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants.”

“Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record.”

“Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history.”

Dominican amber containing Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus (in box), dime image digitally added for size comparison; the piece of amber also contains three ants, a beetle, and a flower. Image credit: Phillip Barden, Harvard / NJIT.

Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus is only the third tardigrade amber fossil to be fully described and formally named to date.

The other two fully described modern-looking tardigrade fossils are Milnesium swolenskyi and Beorn leggi, both known from Cretaceous-period amber in North America.

The new species is also the first fossil to be found embedded in Miocene Dominican amber and the first fossil representative of the tardigrade superfamily Isohypsibioidea.

“Scientists know where tardigrades broadly fit in the tree of life, that they are related to arthropods, and that they have a deep origin during the Cambrian Explosion,” Professor Ortega-Hernández said.

“The problem is that we have this extremely lonely phylum with only three named fossils.”

“Most of the fossils from this phylum are found in amber but, because they’re small, even if they are preserved it may be really difficult to see them.”

Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus photographed with transmitted light under stereomicroscope. Image credit: Mapalo et al., doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1760.

Using confocal laser microscopy, Professor Ortega-Hernández and colleagues were able to fully visualize two very important characters of Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus: the claws and the buccal apparatus, or the foregut of the animal.

“Even though externally it looked like a modern tardigrade, with confocal laser microscopy we could see it had this unique foregut organization that warranted for us to erect a new genus within this extant group of tardigrade superfamilies,” said Marc Mapalo, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus is the only genus that has this specific unique character arrangement in the superfamily Isohypsibioidea.”

The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Marc A. Mapalo et al. 2021. A tardigrade in Dominican amber. Proc. R. Soc. B 288 (1960): 20211760; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1760


Jurassic World: Why There Can Never Be Another Park

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Logically, there would never be another park in the Jurassic Park franchise, especially in another Jurassic World film. The characters in the franchise have attempted to create two Jurassic theme parks with dinosaurs and even planned on opening an amphitheater in San Diego. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) hired Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) to bring dinosaurs back to life in Jurassic Park by splicing their DNA with that of a frog’s. It was an exciting concept - zoos, but bigger and with animals long-extinct - that was better on paper than it was fully realized by Hammond's company, InGen, which didn't properly assess the risks involved.

Many people died during the investor preview in Jurassic Park, including Jurassic Park programmer Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) and game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), prompting a park closing before it even opened. In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the T-Rex escaped on the boat to San Diego, killing several crew members, including the captain, leading to the infamous rampage through the suburbs in the film's third act. By the events depicted in Jurassic World, InGen actually succeeded in creating the theme park that the late Hammond dreamed of. However, this dream is short-lived when the Indominus Rex wreaks havoc across the theme park, causing even more deaths than in Jurassic Park.

There would have been less death in the Jurassic Park franchise if its characters listened to mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm's (Jeff Goldblum) chaos theory musings in Jurassic Park. He even authored a cautionary book titled "God Creates Dinosaurs" in Jurassic World, referencing his chaos theory-related experiences in Jurassic Park. Chaos theory is the idea that the slightest changes in complex systems can have massive, unpredictable outcomes. Since InGen executives finally seem to unwittingly understand chaos theory's principles, with the company learning their lesson twice with a failed proof-of-concept, it makes no rational sense that they would construct another theme park in the future.

One unpredictable outcome in Jurassic Park included the dinosaur population growing disproportionately, causing velociraptors to hunt the park guests. The cause? Splicing a frog’s (known to change genders) genome, which had approximately 20,000 genes, begetting the unexpected outcome of dinosaurs changing their sex and breeding. In Jurassic World, InGen and Dr. Wu made the exact same mistakes: they failed to understand that they can neither control a complex system (the theme park) nor predict how said system will operate, creating the Indominus Rex to boost ticket sales.

Among the various DNA strands (including one of the main predators of both Jurassic Park and The Lost World, the velociraptor) that went into creating the new dinosaur in Jurassic World, the Indominus Rex was spliced with that of both a tree frog and cuttlefish, leading to its escape. Once again, Dr. Wu didn’t realize the effects of creating such a formidable creature. The cuttlefish DNA allowed the Indominus Rex to change its skin color, using it as camouflage with its surrounding environment to hide in plain sight, and the tree frog DNA allowed it to remove its own thermal signature, making it undetectable on radar. As Malcolm would expect, mass deaths ensued. Owen (Chris Pratt) suggested that the island be evacuated, prompting Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) to utter the fateful line, "We'd never reopen," knowing full well that future parks were now out of the question. One can be sure that Dr. Wu and InGen finally understand this notion now. "More teeth" ultimately always means more death.

In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Malcolm famously reiterates: "We don't conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as woven into the very fabric of existence. Yet, I can assure you, it most assuredly is. And it's happening now. Humans and dinosaurs are now gonna be forced to coexist. These creatures were here before us. And if we're not careful, they're gonna be hereafter." With dinosaurs now loose after Fallen Kingdom, InGen facing potential legal consequences for park deaths, and Malcolm returning to the franchise in the upcoming Jurassic World sequel to reassert his logic, a future park in the Jurassic Park franchise would only breed more of the same chaos theory-related issues - unexpected DNA outcomes and innocent lives lost.


Eocene Grass Spikelet Found Preserved in Baltic Amber

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Side view of Eograminis balticus. Image credit: Poinar & Soreng, doi: 10.1086/716781.

Eograminis balticus, a new species of grass found in a piece of 40-50-million-year-old amber, represents the first definite grass to be described from Baltic amber as well as the first fossil member of Arundinoideae, a subfamily of the widespread Poaceae family that includes cereal grasses, bamboos and many species found in lawns and natural grasslands.

A spikelet is one unit of inflorescence, or flower arrangement, and consists of two glumes and one or more florets.

A glume is a leaflike structure below the flower cluster, and a floret is one of the small flowers in the cluster.

The fossil spikelet examined by Oregon State University’s Professor George Poinar Jr. and Smithsonian Institution’s Dr. Roberg Soreng is the first definite evidence that grasses were among the various plants in the Baltic amber forest.

“The discovery not only adds a new plant group to the extensive flora that have been described from Baltic amber but provides new insights into the forest habitat the amber came from, a controversial topic in this field of study,” said Professor Poinar said.

“Some scientists have proposed that fossiliferous amber from the Baltic region was formed in tropical and subtropical woods, and others say it came from a humid, marshy, warm-temperate forest. Our new grass suggests that for at least a time the habitat was warm-temperate, like you see today in mixed deciduous and conifer forests.”

The amber specimen is between 40 and 50 million years old (Eocene Epoch).

It came from the Blue Earth Formation in the Samland Peninsula of the Baltic Sea.

“Present on the spikelet is an immature grasshopper-like insect and a leaf-spot fungal spore that provide information on the microhabitat of the fossil grass,” Professor Poinar said.

“The spikelet has structural and developmental features that existed in early Cenozoic grasses and establishes an important calibration point for future studies on the origin and splitting of genera in its subtribe.”

Because of the lack of access to leaves, pistils, and complete stamens, it is difficult to align Eograminis balticus with any modern genus.

However, the spikelet has features of members of Molinia, a wetland genus with extant species concentrated around the Baltic Sea.

These features that resemble those of Eograminis balticus include spikelets that are one to five flowered, awnless, and 3.2-7 mm long and smooth glumes overlapping at the base.

Molinia species are concentrated around the Baltic Sea, but some of those species’ characteristics are different from what we see in this fossil,” Professor Poinar said.

The discovery is described in a paper in the International Journal of Plant Sciences.


George Poinar Jr. & Robert J. Soreng. A New Genus and Species of Grass, Eograminis balticus (Poaceae: Arundinoideae), in Baltic Amber. International Journal of Plant Sciences, published online September 10, 2021; doi: 10.1086/716781


Sierraceratops turneri: New Horned Dinosaur Species Identified in New Mexico

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Life reconstruction of Sierraceratops turneri. Image credit: Sergey Krasovskiy.

A new genus and species of chasmosaurine ceratopsid dinosaur has been identified from skeletal fragments found in the Late Cretaceous rocks of the Hall Lake Formation in south-central New Mexico, the United States.

The newly-identified dinosaur roamed the ancient island continent Laramidia some 72 million years ago (Late Cretaceous period).

It had an ornate frill, short but massive brow horns, a 1.5-m (5-foot) long skull, and was about 4.6 m (15 feet) in length.

Named Sierraceratops turneri, it belongs to a subfamily of ceratopsid dinosaurs called Chasmosaurinae.

It was a sister species to the ceratopsid dinosaurs Bravoceratops and Coahuilaceratops, part of a group endemic to the southwestern United States and Mexico.

It is also related to but predates the famous ceratopsid dinosaur Triceratops by some 6 million years.

Sierraceratops turneri is most closely related to other ceratopsids from Texas and northern Mexico,” said Dr. Nick Longrich from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath and colleagues.

“These dinosaurs form a group that lived only in southwestern North America, different from the ceratopsid groups that lived to the north.”

“This suggests that distinct and endemic dinosaurs may have inhabited different parts of western North America during the Late Cretaceous, 72 million years ago.”

“Part of the reason dinosaurs became so diverse is that they would specialize on different habitats, just like modern birds or mammals,” Dr. Longrich said.

“These are huge animals, and you’d think they would be widespread. But in fact, it’s not the same species living everywhere.”

“Different species probably adapted to the local climate, plants, predators, and diseases giving them an edge against invaders from outside.”

“We have known of Cretaceous dinosaurs in New Mexico and the Southwest for more than a century, but for most of that time our knowledge of the diversity of this dinosaur fauna has lagged behind our understanding of the dinosaurs of the northern Great Plains from Wyoming to Alberta,” said University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Peter Dodson, who was not connected with the study.

The partial skeleton of Sierraceratops turneri was found in the 1990s on the ranch of Ted Turner, founder of the Cable News Network (CNN).

Sierraceratops turneri was collected from a layer of rocks that has been understudied as far as its fossils and dinosaur fauna,” said Harrisburg University’s Dr. Steven Jasinski.

“When we spend more time researching and collecting in understudied strata like this, we find that different rocks often have distinct dinosaurs, and these dinosaur communities are frequently unique, particularly if they are from different times or ages.”

According to the paleontologists, Sierraceratops turneri adds to the diversity and disparity of Chasmosaurinae in the Late Cretaceous and provides additional evidence for Laramidian endemism.

“Together with the new species, the Hall Lake Formation dinosaur fauna suggests that the latest Cretaceous of southern Laramidia was characterized by endemic clades and distinct community structures,” they said.

The findings appear in the journal Cretaceous Research.


Sebastian G. Dalman et alSierraceratops turneri, a new chasmosaurine ceratopsid from the Hall Lake Formation (Upper Cretaceous) of south-central New Mexico. Cretaceous Research, published online September 29, 2021; doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2021.105034


Giant Ammonites Once Thrived on Both Sides of Atlantic

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The world’s largest ammonite specimen (1.8 m in diameter) housed in the Munster Natural History Museum, Germany. Image credit: Christina Ifrim.

Enormous ammonites up to 1.8 m (6 feet) across lived on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom and Mexico, some 83 million years ago (Cretaceous period), according to new research led by the University of Portsmouth.

University of Portsmouth’s Professor Andy Gale and colleagues studied the fossilized shells of 154 giant ammonites found in the Cretaceous rocks in Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

“These enormous, long extinct, shelled cephalopods, related to squid and octopus, achieved a maximum shell diameter of 1.8 m and are best known from a specimen in the Munster Natural History Museum in Germany,” Professor Gale said.

“They were wiped out by the same end-Cretaceous meteorite impact 66 million years ago which did for the dinosaurs.”

“Fossil finds of the species are extremely rare, so little is know about them,” he added.

“But because we found so many in Sussex, we can start piecing together the sequence of their evolution.”

Of the 154 fossils examined, 110 were found on the beaches in Sussex or in Mexico.

From these, the paleontologists were able to determine the species thrived 83 million years ago and grew enormous.

Because the fossils were found in clusters, they believe the ammonites died and sank after reproducing, which they did only once in their lifetime.

“This giant species is commonly found in the chalk on the foreshore at Peacehaven in East Sussex, where erosion by the sea has exposed moulds of the shells,” Professor Gale said.

“The largest specimens are females, which probably spawned once and subsequently died.”

“The chambered shells were buoyant, and floated in the Chalk Sea for a long time before finally sinking to the bottom, where they have been preserved for millions of years.”

The team’s work will be published in the journal PLoS ONE.


Devonian Phacopid Trilobites Had Unique Hyper-Compound Eyes

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Phacops geesops, a trilobite species that lived during the Devonian period; the animal’s eyes consist of 200 single lenses each, spanning six small facets, which again form one eye each. Image credit: Brigitte Schoenemann.

Trilobites are extinct arthropods that dominated the faunas of the Paleozoic Era. Since their appearance 523 million years ago, they were equipped with elaborate compound eyes. While most of them possessed apposition compound eyes, comparable to the compound eyes of many crustaceans and insects living today, trilobites of the suborder Phacopina that lived 390 million years ago developed the so-called schizochroal eyes — atypical large eyes with wide lenses and wide interspaces in between. New research shows that these compound eyes were highly sophisticated systems — hyper-compound eyes hiding an individual compound eye below each of the big lenses.

“Most trilobites had compound eyes similar to those that are still found in insects today: a large number of hexagonal facets form the eye. There are usually eight photoreceptors under each facet,” said Dr. Brigitte Schoenemann, a researcher in the Department of Zoology, Neurobiology/Animal Physiology and Biology Education at the University of Cologne, and her colleagues.

“Comparable to the image of a computer screen, which is built up from individual pixels, an image is built up from the individual facets. In dragonflies, there are up to ten thousand individual facets.”

“In order to produce a coherent image, the facets must be very close together and connected by neurons.”

“However, in the trilobite suborder Phacopina, the externally visible lenses of the compound eyes are much larger, up to 1 mm in diameter and more. In addition, they are set farther apart.”

In the new research, Dr. Schoenemann and co-authors analyzed X-ray images taken by Wilhelm Stürmer, an amateur paleontologist and a pioneer of X-ray analyses in fossils during the 1970s.

The researchers found that the facets in the schizochroal eyes of the phacopid trilobites are less numerous than in most trilobite eyes, but can reach diameters of 2 mm and more, and there are wide interspaces in between.

They found that below each of the these large lenses sits a small complete individual compound eye — so in total there results a hyper-compound eye, with several tens, in cases hundreds of compound eyes in one eye-system.

Structure of the visual unit of phacopid trilobites. Image credit: Schoenemann et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-98740-z.

“Each phacopid had two eyes, one on the left and one on the right,” Dr. Schoenemann said.

“Each of these eyes consisted of about 200 lenses up to 1 mm in size.”

“Under each of these lenses, in turn, at least 6 facets are set up, each of which together again makes up a small compound eye.”

“So we have about 200 compound eyes (one under each lens) in one eye. These sub-facets are arranged in either one ring or two rings.”

“Underneath sat a foam-like nest that was probably a small neural network to process the signals.”

According to the team, the hyper-compound eyes of the phacopid trilobites may have been an evolutionary adaptation to life in low light conditions.

“With its highly complex visual apparatus, it may have been much more sensitive to light than a normal trilobite eye,” Dr. Schoenemann said.

“It is also possible that the individual components of the eye performed different functions, enabling, for example, contrast enhancement or the perception of different colors.”

“So far, such an eye has only been found in the trilobite suborder Phacopina,” she said.

“This is unique in the animal kingdom. In the course of evolution, this eye system was not continued, since the trilobites of the suborder Phacopina died out at the end of the Devonian period 360 million years ago.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.


B. Schoenemann et al. 2021. A 390 million-year-old hyper-compound eye in Devonian phacopid trilobites. Sci Rep 11, 19505; doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-98740-z


No, Woolly Mammoths Are Not Returning; But We May Get Arctic Elephants

Friday, October 1, 2021

Geneticist George Church and his business partner Ben Lamm, who recently launched a company to ‘bring back’ mammoths, respond to questions on ethics, dangers and details

Media worldwide was agog earlier this month with Jurassic Park meets Ice Age reports of woolly mammoths making a gene-engineered comeback. Turns out the truth is more nuanced.

George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University in the United States and Ben Lamm, an emerging technology and software entrepreneur, had announced the launch of Colossal, a bioscience and genetics company September 13, 2021. They had added that the company would apply advanced gene-editing techniques to restore the woolly mammoth to the Arctic tundra.

The woolly mammoth is an extinct species of elephant that roamed the frozen wastes of northern Eurasia and North America during the last glacial period that ended 12,000 years ago.

The species possibly became extinct as the weather warmed and its food supply became scarce. The Asian elephant of today is the woolly mammoth’s closest existing relative.

The Arctic tundra in Siberia. Photo: Andreas Hugentobler via Wikimedia Commons

Church, Lamm and their team are now planning to restore this animal back to those fast-warming frozen wastes of the far north. But there is a catch.

Church told Down To Earth (DTE) that the animals that would be produced as part of the project would not really be woolly mammoths. He was speaking in a roundtable with journalists from around the world September 29.

He added that he and his team would use genes from mammoths so that the resultant animals would look and behave like mammoths. Asian elephants would also be used since they are existent and the mammoth is closest genetically to them.

But the resultant offspring would be different from both Asian elephants or mammoths:

We are not trying to make mammoths. We are trying to make Arctic elephants that are adapted to a variety of different environments. This is emphatically to de-endanger rather than to de-extinct.

“They will be resistant to viruses. It won’t be just a hybrid. It will be really well-adapted and hopefully be an example of things we can do with other endangered species,” said Church.

Why mammoths? 

Lamm said the project had a two-fold goal. One was to restore cold-resistant elephants that were functionally mammoths back to the Arctic so that they could fix the degraded ecosystem there.

The other was to use technologies that were applied in the process — such as synthetic wombs and multiplexed editing — for conserving endangered species as well as for use in agriculture and veterinary science.

According to the Colossal website, the project is creating the animals to realise ten different goals. These are:

  • To decelerate melting of the arctic permafrost.
  • To prevent the emission of greenhouse gases trapped within the permafrost layer — up to 600 million tonnes of net carbon annually.
  • To revert now-overshrubbed forests back into natural arctic grasslands, which help with carbon emissions.
  • To restore the Mammoth Steppe.
  • To foster an ecosystem that can maintain its own defences against climate change.
  • To understand the dominant traits among cold-resistant genomes.
  • To save modern elephants from extinction.
  • To establish a proven link between genetic sciences and climate change.
  • To equip nature with a resilience against humanity’s adverse effects on vital ecosystems.
  • To drive advancements in multiplex CRISPR editing.

Church said his team intends to use the animals for carbon sequestration such as keeping methane from being released from the permafrost and bringing new carbon dioxide into the frozen soil. 

But how would they do this? Church and Lamm did not explain further. However, according to media reports, the elephants that are produced by the team will tamp on snow and remove trees. 

There are no trees found in the Arctic tundra. But forests of spruces do border the tundra region. The tundra is home to mossess, lichens as well as shrubs. Dwarf trees are found in the tundra though.

Stamping on the trees would allow grass to grow, reducing the release of methane gas. The elephants would also clear snow from the top of the soil and prevent it from absorbing heat.

Ethical considerations

There have been a number of commentaries in media outlets across the world about the ethics of the project. Questions have ranged from whether it was okay to bring back such an ancient species? Was there a danger of technology being misused? Could humans really play God?

Church agreed that any new technology could have negative, unintended consequences.

However, he added that the animals that would be produced as part of this project would breed very slowly and would not be carnivorous.

They would also be introduced to regions that would be sparsely populated. “We are open to any kind of suggestion or input. Since this project is happening slowly, there would be plenty of time for course correction,” he said.

DTE asked Church about what say the indigenous peoples of the Arctic had in the matter.

He replied that a huge fraction of the 20 million square kilometres of the Arctic was inaccessible or undesirable to the indigenous peoples of the region.

“As you get farther away from the rivers, lakes and ocean, it gets harder to live there. There is almost zero per cent people living there. We are just looking at five per cent of these 20 million square kilometres. We are talking to indigenous peoples as well. And we will steer the elephants away from human settlements through the use of food,” Church said.

The project is being financed by venture capitalists such as Jim Breyer and Tim Draper. Lamm said the team at Colossal hoped to make money from the project.

Both, Lamm and Church said it would take four-six years for the first calves to be born. Introducing them into the Arctic would take at least a decade if not more.

“We are not under pressure to monetise for quite some time. Our investors are in it for the long haul. We do hope that the technologies that are used in this project can be used for conservation of species, whether wildlife or plants, as well as in agriculture and veterinary science,” he said.