Paleontology

Neanderthal Molar from Belgium (Image courtesy I. Crevecoeur. All rights reserved)

An article published in the journal “Nature” describes a research that helps the reconstruction of the final phase of Neanderthals’ history. A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced the genome of 5 individuals of that species who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago. These individuals are more closely related to those who interbred with modern humans than to an older individual from the Altai mountains whose DNA was sequenced some time ago.

Pterosaur fossils

An article published in the journal “PLoS Biology” describes the discovery of fossils of six new species of pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. Researchers led by the University of Bath examined them concluding that this group of reptiles went exinct suddenly together with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, while the prevailing theory was that they started declining from the mid-Cretaceous.

The chick's phosphorous mapping and photo (Image Dr. Fabien Knoll)

An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” describes the study of the fossil remains of a chick that lived about 127 million years ago and died shortly after its birth. A team of researchers led by Dr. Fabien Knoll of the University of Manchester examined this specimen that belongs to the Enantiornithes, a group of primordial birds that lived during the Cretaceous period. Its almost complete skeleton made it possible to analyze its bones’ structure and development, obtaining new data on those birds.

Little skate - Leucoraja erinacea (Photo Andy Martinez/NOAA)

An article published in the journal “Cell” describes a research on the origin of the types of neurons needed to coordinate walking on the mainland. A team of researchers from the New York University School of Medicine focused in particular on the species little skate (Leucoraja erinacea), part of the most primitive vertebrate group, studying its neuromuscular and genetic development. The conclusion is that some fish started walking on the sea floor about 420 million years ago, about 20 million years before the early tetrapods started colonizing the mainland.

400 million-years old Rhynia gwynne-vaughanii fossil (Image courtesy The Natural History Museum, London. All rights reserved)

An article published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” describes a research on the timeline of the mainland colonization by plants. A team of researchers led by the British University of Bristol used the molecular clock methodology to compare genetic differences among the various species even in the absence of complete fossils. The conclusion is that plants started colonizing the mainland about 100 million years earlier than previously thought based on the oldest fossils, which date back to about 420 million years ago.