At this month's PubSci, Professor Ian Barnes of the Natural History Museum will be talking about his recent research on fossil mammals using ancient proteins - ground-breaking work that was published in Nature just last month.
"Toxodon is perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered," wrote Charles Darwin in 1839. With a rhino's body, hippo's head and rodent-like teeth the place of Toxodon and fellow extinct South-American ungulate Macrauchenia - a creature with the body of a camel and the face of a tapir – in the mammal family tree has long confounded scientists. These chimeric beasts existed on the South American continent for around 60 million years, before disappearing around 12 thousand years ago. A fragmentary fossil record and highly degraded ancient DNA has meant that, until now, the evolutionary placement of Toxodon and Macrauchenia has remained a complete mystery. Through a novel approach using ancient proteins instead of ancient DNA Ian will take us through how he and his team of researchers finally solved one of the longest standing puzzles in mammal evolution.
Ian Barnes began his research career studying archaeology, having failed to understand that the Indiana Jones films were not documentaries.
Realising this error, he again took career advice from a Steven Spielberg film and moved to working on ancient DNA. During subsequent spells in Oxford and UCL, he has been involved with many of the key ancient DNA studies of the ice age megafauna, including giant deer, sabretooth cats, short-faced bears and woolly mammoth. He is currently Research Leader in Vertebrate and Anthropology Palaeobiology at the Natural History Museum London specialising in ancient DNA, population genetics and evolutionary biology.
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