Ancient Hammerhead with Sharp Teeth was First Vegetarian Reptile

Modern Readers

Originally Posted: May 9, 2016

Don’t let those sharp teeth fool you, because this ancient hammerhead reptile had no appetite for meat.

The hammerhead’s most distinctive feature was its two menacing rows of teeth, with one group resembling needles and another group resembling chisels. That would normally hint that it was a carnivore, and probably one of the most fearsome sea creatures of its time. But the strangest thing about the animal is that it ate plants, with those rows of teeth serving a different purpose than what one may think.

A new study has detailed how Atopodentatus unicus (“uniquely strangely toothed”) existed in the middle Triassic era, millions of years before dinosaurs rose to prominence. Fossils of the hammerhead reptile were first spotted in 2014 in southern China, and based on scientists’ findings, the animal had lived about 242 million years ago, making it the earliest herbivorous marine reptile by only about eight million years. Not to mention, one of the strangest, according to the researchers.

“On a scale of weirdness, I think this is up there with the best,” said study lead Nicholas Fraser of the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. “It kind of reminds me of some of the Dr. Seuss creations.”

Aside from the unique teeth that gave the reptile its scientific name, A. unicus had a longer neck in proportion to its body, and a tiny head, also in relation to its overall size. Another key feature was the animal’s strong fore-limbs for swimming. Overall, A. unicus measured nine feet long from head to tail, making it about as large as a modern alligator.

Southern Methodist University paleontologist Louis Jacobs was not involved in the study, but he told Live Science about how A. unicus may have used its teeth. He said that the needle-like teeth may have also been used by the animal to collect plants, in a similar way to how baleen whale catches krill. The chisel teeth, on the other hand, may have helped the reptile scrape plants from the seafloor. Once A. unicus gathered its food, he added, it would “suck in a mouthful of water,” presumably to make the food easier to swallow down.

“Then, they squish the water out of their mouth, and those little teeth along the sides of the jaw and on the roof of the mouth strain out all of the plant bits,” Jacobs continued. “That’s an amazing way to feed. I’d like to do that myself.”

Fraser also shared his insights about A. unicus’ peculiarities, namely its being a plant-eater despite its sharp teeth, which was unusual for marine reptiles during the era. He believes this may have been due to a lack of plant diversity at the time.

“This fossil took us very much by surprise. However, this was a whole different world,” said Fraser. “So now we are beginning to accept this strange and wonderful environment that gave rise to very unfamiliar body forms.” READ MORE

Dedman College 2015 research efforts broadly noted in a variety of ways for world-changing impact

SMU Research

Originally Posted: January 8, 2016

It was a good year for faculty and student research efforts. Here is a small sampling of public and published acknowledgements during 2015:

Research makes the cover of Biochemistry

bichaw.2015.54.issue-49.largecover-226x300

Drugs important in the battle against cancer were tested in a virtual lab by SMU biology professors to see how they would behave in the human cell.

A computer-generated composite image of the simulation made the Dec. 15 cover of the journal Biochemistry.

Scientific articles about discoveries from the simulation were also published in the peer review journals Biochemistry and in Pharmacology Research & Perspectives.

The researchers tested the drugs by simulating their interaction in a computer-generated model of one of the cell’s key molecular pumps — the protein P-glycoprotein, or P-gp. Outcomes of interest were then tested in the Wise-Vogel wet lab.

The ongoing research is the work of biochemists John Wise, associate professor, and Pia Vogel, professor and director of the SMU Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery in Dedman College. Assisting them were a team of SMU graduate and undergraduate students.

The researchers developed the model to overcome the problem of relying on traditional static images for the structure of P-gp. The simulation makes it possible for researchers to dock nearly any drug in the protein and see how it behaves, then test those of interest in an actual lab.

To date, the researchers have run millions of compounds through the pump and have discovered some that are promising for development into pharmaceutical drugs to battle cancer.

Click here to read more about the research.

Strong interest in research on sexual victimization
SMUbystander_LEDE-300x198Teen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and after practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment, according to three professors from the SMU Department of Psychology.

The finding was reported in Behavior Therapy. The article was one of the psychology journal’s most heavily shared and mentioned articles across social media, blogs and news outlets during 2015, the publisher announced.

The study was the work of Dedman College faculty Lorelei Simpson Rowe, associate professor and Psychology Department graduate program co-director; Ernest Jouriles, professor; and Renee McDonald, SMU associate dean for research and academic affairs.

The journal’s publisher, Elsevier, temporarily has lifted its subscription requirement on the article, “Reducing Sexual Victimization Among Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of My Voice, My Choice,” and has opened it to free access for three months.

Click here to read more about the research.

Consumers assume bigger price equals better quality
Firms signal quality through the prices they charge, typically working on the assumption that shoppers think a high price indicates high quality.

That was a finding of the research of Dedman College’s Santanu Roy, professor, Department of Economics. Roy’s article about the research was published in February in one of the blue-ribbon journals, and the oldest, in the field, The Economic Journal.

Published by the U.K.’s Royal Economic Society, The Economic Journal is one of the founding journals of modern economics. The journal issued a media briefing about the paper, “Competition, Disclosure and Signaling,” typically reserved for academic papers of broad public interest.

Chemistry research group edits special issue
austin-symposium-jpca-226x300Chemistry professors Dieter Cremer and Elfi Kraka, who lead SMU’s Computational and Theoretical Chemistry Group, were guest editors of a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Physical Chemistry. The issue published in March.

The Computational and Theoretical research group, called CATCO for short, is a union of computational and theoretical chemistry scientists at SMU. Their focus is research in computational chemistry, educating and training graduate and undergraduate students, disseminating and explaining results of their research to the broader public, and programming computers for the calculation of molecules and molecular aggregates.

The special issue of Physical Chemistry included 40 contributions from participants of a four-day conference in Dallas in March 2014 that was hosted by CATCO. The 25th Austin Symposium drew 108 participants from 22 different countries who, combined, presented eight plenary talks, 60 lectures and about 40 posters.

CATCO presented its research with contributions from Cremer and Kraka, as well as Marek Freindorf, research assistant professor; Wenli Zou, visiting professor; Robert Kalescky, post-doctoral fellow; and graduate students Alan Humason, Thomas Sexton, Dani Setlawan and Vytor Oliveira.

There have been more than 75 graduate students and research associates working in the CATCO group, which originally was formed at the University of Cologne, Germany, before moving to SMU in 2009.

Vertebrate paleontology recognized with proclamation
519ca82d-6517-4df9-b5ac-26e5458882ef-233x300Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings proclaimed Oct. 11-17, 2015 Vertebrate Paleontology week in Dallas on behalf of the Dallas City Council.

The proclamation honored the 75th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which was jointly hosted by SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in Dedman College and the Perot Museum of Science and Nature. The conference drew to Dallas some 1,200 scientists from around the world.

Making research presentations or presenting research posters were: faculty members Bonnie Jacobs, Louis Jacobs, Michael Polcyn, Neil Tabor and Dale Winkler; adjunct research assistant professor Alisa Winkler; research staff member Kurt Ferguson; post-doctoral researchers T. Scott Myers and Lauren Michael; and graduate students Matthew Clemens, John Graf, Gary Johnson and Kate Andrzejewski.

The host committee co-chairs were Anthony Fiorillo, adjunct research professor; and Louis Jacobs, professor. Committee members included Polcyn; Christopher Strganac, graduate student; Diana Vineyard, research associate; and research professor Dale Winkler.

KERA radio reporter Kat Chow filed a report from the conference, explaining to listeners the science of vertebrate paleontology, which exposes the past, present and future of life on earth by studying fossils of animals that had backbones.

SMU earthquake scientists rock scientific journal

Modelled-pressure-174x300Modelled pressure changes caused by injection and production. (Nature Communications/SMU)

Findings by the SMU earthquake team reverberated across the nation with publication of their scientific article in the prestigious British interdisciplinary journal Nature, ranked as one of the world’s most cited scientific journals.

The article reported that the SMU-led seismology team found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of unusually frequent earthquakes occurring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area near the small community of Azle.

The research was the work of Dedman College faculty Matthew Hornbach, associate professor of geophysics; Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics; Brian Stump, SMU Albritton Chair in Earth Sciences; Chris Hayward, research staff and director geophysics research program; and Beatrice Magnani, associate professor of geophysics.

The article, “Causal factors for seismicity near Azle, Texas,” published online in late April. Already the article has been downloaded nearly 6,000 times, and heavily shared on both social and conventional media. The article has achieved a ranking of 270, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 144,972 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and 98th percentile of 626 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.

“It has a very high impact factor for an article of its age,” said Robert Gregory, professor and chair, SMU Earth Sciences Department.

The scientific article also was entered into the record for public hearings both at the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.

Researchers settle long-debated heritage question of “The Ancient One”

Scultpted-bust-300x225-300x225The skull of Kennewick Man and a sculpted bust by StudioEIS based on forensic facial reconstruction by sculptor Amanda Danning. (Credit: Brittany Tatchell)

The research of Dedman College anthropologist and Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory David Meltzer played a role in settling the long-debated and highly controversial heritage of “Kennewick Man.”

Also known as “The Ancient One,” the 8,400-year-old male skeleton discovered in Washington state has been the subject of debate for nearly two decades. Argument over his ancestry has gained him notoriety in high-profile newspaper and magazine articles, as well as making him the subject of intense scholarly study.

Officially the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 and radiocarbon dated to 8500 years ago.

Because of his cranial shape and size he was declared not Native American but instead ‘Caucasoid,’ implying a very different population had once been in the Americas, one that was unrelated to contemporary Native Americans.

But Native Americans long have claimed Kennewick Man as theirs and had asked for repatriation of his remains for burial according to their customs.

Meltzer, collaborating with his geneticist colleague Eske Willerslev and his team at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, in June reported the results of their analysis of the DNA of Kennewick in the prestigious British journal Nature in the scientific paper “The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man.”

The results were announced at a news conference, settling the question based on first-ever DNA evidence: Kennewick Man is Native American.

The announcement garnered national and international media attention, and propelled a new push to return the skeleton to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015 and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has offered state assistance for returning the remains to Native Tribes.

Science named the Kennewick work one of its nine runners-up in the highly esteemed magazine’s annual “Breakthrough of the Year” competition.

The research article has been viewed more than 60,000 times. It has achieved a ranking of 665, which puts it in the 99th percentile of 169,466 tracked articles of a similar age in all journals, and in the 94th percentile of 958 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature.

In “Kennewick Man: coming to closure,” an article in the December issue of Antiquity, a journal of Cambridge University Press, Meltzer noted that the DNA merely confirmed what the tribes had known all along: “We are him, he is us,” said one tribal spokesman. Meltzer concludes: “We presented the DNA evidence. The tribal members gave it meaning.”

Click here to read more about the research.

Prehistoric vacuum cleaner captures singular award

Louis-Tony-300x214Paleontologists Louis L. Jacobs, SMU, and Anthony Fiorillo, Perot Museum, have identified a new species of marine mammal from bones recovered from Unalaska, an Aleutian island in the North Pacific. (Hillsman Jackson, SMU)

Science writer Laura Geggel with Live Science named a new species of extinct marine mammal identified by two SMU paleontologists among “The 10 Strangest Animal Discoveries of 2015.”
The new species, dubbed a prehistoric hoover by London’s Daily Mail online news site, was identified by SMU paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, and paleontologist and SMU adjunct research professor Anthony Fiorillo, vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Jacobs and Fiorillo co-authored a study about the identification of new fossils from the oddball creature Desmostylia, discovered in the same waters where the popular “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed. The hippo-like creature ate like a vacuum cleaner and is a new genus and species of the only order of marine mammals ever to go extinct — surviving a mere 23 million years.

Desmostylians, every single species combined, lived in an interval between 33 million and 10 million years ago. Their strange columnar teeth and odd style of eating don’t occur in any other animal, Jacobs said.

SMU campus hosted the world’s premier physicists
photo5-300x224The SMU Department of Physics hosted the “23rd International Workshop on Deep Inelastic Scattering and Related Subjects” from April 27-May 1, 2015. Deep Inelastic Scattering is the process of probing the quantum particles that make up our universe.

As noted by the CERN Courier — the news magazine of the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, which hosts the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest science experiment — more than 250 scientists from 30 countries presented more than 200 talks on a multitude of subjects relevant to experimental and theoretical research. SMU physicists presented at the conference.

The SMU organizing committee was led by Fred Olness, professor and chair of the SMU Department of Physics in Dedman College, who also gave opening and closing remarks at the conference. The committee consisted of other SMU faculty, including Jodi Cooley, associate professor; Simon Dalley, senior lecturer; Robert Kehoe, professor; Pavel Nadolsky, associate professor, who also presented progress on experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider; Randy Scalise, senior lecturer; and Stephen Sekula, associate professor.

Sekula also organized a series of short talks for the public about physics and the big questions that face us as we try to understand our universe.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

SMU is closed December 24-January 1. Have a safe and happy holiday!

HappyHolidays

SMU books fulfill your holiday gift giving list

Books published in 2015 by the SMU community, including faculty, staff, alumni, libraries and museum, can complete your holiday gift list.

Need to satisfy a history buff? This list has it covered in genres from art to film to science to the Southwest. Find selections for readers of poetry, as well as personal, political and travel memoir. There’s a cookbook for foodies. A photography collection showcases the American West. Arty crime capers are filled with mystery and intrigue to the end. There’s even a literary riff in the form of a card game based on a classic novel.

This collection has something for all reading preferences, from light to serious. Some selections are available at the SMU bookstore, but all are available via online booksellers unless otherwise noted. Authors are listed alphabetically. READ MORE

Save the Date: 2016 Career Fair, Feb. 18 from 4-7 p.m.

Unknown

New North American pterosaur is a Texan — but flying reptile’s closest cousin is English

EurekaAlert!

Originally Posted: December 8, 2015

New species marks only the third toothed pterosaur identified from North America’s Cretaceous — each one discovered in North Texas

A new species of toothy pterosaur is a native of Texas whose closest relative is from England.

The new 94-million-year-old species, named Cimoliopterus dunni, is strikingly similar to England’s Cimoliopterus cuvieri.

Identification of the new flying reptile links prehistoric Texas to England, says paleontologist Timothy S. Myers, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who identified the fossil as a new species.

Pterosaur relatives from two continents suggests the prehistoric creatures moved between North America and England earlier in the Cretaceous — despite progressive widening of the North Atlantic Ocean during that time.

The Texas and English Cimoliopterus cousins are different species, so some evolutionary divergence occurred, indicating the populations were isolated from one another at 94 million years ago, Myers said.

The similarity between the two species, however, implies minimal divergence time, so gene flow between North American and European populations would have been possible at some point shortly before that date.

“The Atlantic opened the supercontinent Pangea like a zipper, separating continents and leaving animal populations isolated, so gene flow ceased and we start to see evolutionary divergence,” said Myers, a research assistant professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. “Animals start to look different and you see different species on one continent versus another. Pterosaurs are a little trickier because unlike land animals they can fly and disperse across bodies of water. The later ones are pretty good flyers.”

Based on fossils discovered so far, it’s known that toothed pterosaurs are generally abundant during the Cretaceous in Asia, Europe and South America. But they are rare in North America. READ MORE

Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields – Call for Abstracts

The SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting our 8th international energy conference and workshop, Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields, April 25-26, 2016 on the SMU Campus in Dallas, Texas.

We are looking for speakers and poster presentations. Abstracts are due by Friday February 5, 2016.

Submit your abstract by email to geothermal@smu.edu.

Please include:

Author name(s)
Organization name(s)
Presentation title
Abstract, 1-2 pages
Prefer Oral Presentation or Poster Session?
Bio of presenter
We will let you know if your presentation has been selected, and whether you have been assigned a speaker slot or poster session.

Contact Maria Richards at mrichard@smu.edu or 214-768-1975 for more information or to discuss your topic.

Submit your abstract by email to geothermal@smu.edu. Abstracts are due by Friday February 5, 2016.  READ MORE

Louis Jacobs, Earth Sciences, why land animals moved to the seas

Smithsonian Magazine
Originally Posted: April 16, 2015

Take a Deep Dive Into The Reasons Land Animals Moved to the Seas

Synthesizing decades of discoveries, scientists have revealed links between changing environments and animal movements

The movement of animals from the land into the sea has happened several times over the last 250 million years, and it has been documented in many different and singular ways. But now, for the first time, a team of researchers has created an overview that not only provides insight into evolution, but may also help more accurately assess humans’ impact on the planet.

Behind-the-Scenes With Curator Nick Pyenson: A New Fossil Whale
The oceans are teeming with tetrapods—“four-legged” birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians—that have repeatedly transitioned from the land to the sea, adapting their legs into fins. The transitions have often been correlated with mass extinctions, but the true reasons are only partly known based on fossils and through study of Earth’s climate, for instance.

Those transitions are considered to be “canonical illustrations” of the evolutionary process and thus ideal for study; living marine tetrapods—such as whales, seals, otters and sea lions—also have a big ecological impact, according to Neil P. Kelley and Nicholas D. Pyenson, the two Smithsonian scientists who compiled the new look at these tetrapods, appearing this week in the journal Science. READ MORE

 

Oldest Whale Fossil Provides Date for East Africa’s Uplift

Laboratory Equipment

Originally Posted: March 17, 2015

Uplift associated with the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and the environmental changes it produced have puzzled scientists for decades because the timing and starting elevation have been poorly constrained.

Now paleontologists have tapped a fossil from the most precisely dated beaked whale in the world – and the only stranded whale ever found so far inland on the African continent – to pinpoint, for the first time, a date when East Africa’s mysterious elevation began. READ MORE

Ancient whale fossil helps reveal birthplace of humanity

UPI

A fossil lost for nearly 40 years is offering clues as to when and how ancient climate change in Africa spurred human evolution.

By Brooks Hays

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 17 (UPI) — Prehistorians believe the transition from dense, elevated forest to flat, open grasslands in East Africa spurred humans’ ancestors to first abandon all fours and walk upright. But when exactly did this happen? Researchers say a long lost beaked whale fossil may offer clues.Ancient-whale-fossil-helps-reveal-birthplace-of-humanity

Though the beaked whale fossil in question is only just now making headlines, it was first discovered in Kenya in 1964. It was unearthed some 460 miles inland, suggesting the sea mammal had gotten lost and swam up a freshwater river system. But the 17-million-year-old fossil was originally misidentified as a turtle, and little analysis was conducted before it went missing.

It stayed lost in the archives of Harvard University for nearly 40 years, before Louis Jacobs — who knew of its existence but for years failed to locate the fossil — finally found the skull.

While the whale’s journey inland is fascinating in itself, the fossil’s rediscovery has offered much grander scientific revelations. The skull has helped researchers to date the East African plateau’s uplift, and thus allowed scientists to more accurately pinpoint the place and time when human bipedalism first emerged.

“The whale is telling us all kinds of things,” study co-author Louis Jacobs, a paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told the Los Angeles Times. “It tells us the starting point for all that uplift that changed the climate that led to humans. It’s amazing.”

To date and measure the plateau’s uplift, scientists used the original field notes to relocate the site of fossil’s initial discovery. Next researchers looked at evidence of modern whales and dolphins who became lost upriver. Because they knew whales could only travel up a wide, low-gradient river, scientists were able to estimate the nature of the ancient waterway. Their analysis suggested the original site of whale’s death (likely from exhaustion) couldn’t have been more than 372 to 559 miles from the Indian Ocean and nor more than 78 to 121 feet high. READ MORE