Wednesday, 3 February 2010

New winds from the fossil world

This is what is left of Lucy. New research cautions palaeontologists not to make too hasty interpretations.

Joel Kontinen

A new study challenges vertebrate evolution. Palaeontologists Mark Purnell, Robert Sansom and Sarah Gabbott at the University of Leicester, UK, published a report on their experiments in Nature. Their research changes our view of fossils.

Purnell and his colleagues killed amphioxus (Branchiostoma lanceolatum) and lampreys (Lampetra fluviatilis) for their experiment and observed how they decayed. They noticed that the traits that were the primary characteristics of these species disappeared rather quickly.

According to Nature, the research throws light on the development of chordates (Chordata), in particular the Cambrian animals. Although the report explains the differences between species in a typical Darwinian way, it suggests that researchers have often jumped to conclusions. In other words, they have seen what they wanted to see.

Scientists will probably have to discard some of their old ”discoveries”. The paper suggests that researchers should refrain from too hasty conclusions to avoid disasters like the one involving the Ida fossil.

Nature also produced a short video on the study:


Cressey, Daniel. 2010. Something rotten in the state of palaeontology. Nature News (31 January)

Sansom, Robert S., Sarah E. Gabbott and Mark A. Purnell. 2010. Non-random decay of chordate characters causes bias in fossil interpretation. Nature (published online 31 January.)