Molecular palaeontology: The ancient fossils we cannot see.

12 December 2018, 6.00 PM - 12 December 2018, 7.00 PM

Professor Ann Pearson, Harvard University

Peel Lecture Theatre, School of Geological Sciences

Public lecture, all welcome.

Multicellular, complex animals that leave skeletal hard fossils are a feature of the Phanerozoic.  Beginning with the Cambrian explosion 540 million years ago, the Phanerozoic represents biology’s mature age, yet life on Earth certainly began more than 2 billion years earlier and was largely microbial.  Lipid biomarkers preserved in ancient sedimentary rocks – otherwise known as molecular fossils – provide one of the few available windows to this record of early microbial life.  Lipid biomarkers are found at least to the mid-Proterozoic, with the oldest assemblages dating to around 1.6 and 1.1 billion years ago.  The compounds present in these samples shed light on the nature of early ecosystems.  When studied in tandem with modern analogue environments or in comparison to important environmental events of the Phanerozoic, the types of organisms and physiological and geochemical functions of past ecosystems often can be determined.  Earth and its biosphere have evolved together; here I will present highlights from several recent case studies that illustrate the power of investigating molecular fossils.

Followed by a drinks reception.

Free registration recommended.

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