Archive for the ‘paleontology’ Category

by Rebecca Cooper

Brewers have pulled yeast from pretty much everywhere to experiment with new strains — one West Coast brewery even brewed a beer using samples from the head brewer’s beard (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/beard-beer-rogue-ales-yeast-john-maier_n_1917119.html) — but Lost Rhino in Ashburn may be breaking into new territory with its BoneDusters amber ale.

BoneDusters was brewed with a yeast that Lost Rhino’s Jasper Akerboom collected off a fossilized whale skeleton at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland.

The collaboration came about because Akerboom, a bit of a yeast nut who handles quality assurance for Lost Rhino, is friends with Jason Osborne, a paleontologist who has donated fossilized whale skeletons to the museum.

Osborne asked Akerboom if there might be yeast present on those fossils that could be used to brew beer. Usually, yeast would not live on bone, given that it needs a sugary food source, but Akerboom decided to indulge his friend anyway.

They found a number of yeast strains on the bones, although Akerboom is pretty sure they’re more likely from the swamp where the bones were found rather than the bones themselves.

Several of the wild yeast strains flourished in Akerboom’s lab, but only one of the strains made any decent beer. The others didn’t ferment fully, making for “nasty-tasting” brews, he said.

The strain they ended up using, combined with some darker malts to create an amber ale, have yielded what Akerboom considers a tasty, well-balanced brew. The beer wasn’t made in the Belgian style, but it is “Belgian-esque,” he said, because the yeast has a slightly fruity flavor profile common in Belgian beers.

Lost Rhino plans to launch the beer June 18 at the brewery and begin distributing it to its networks after that, so it could be appearing at D.C. area bars in the next couple of weeks. A portion of the proceeds from the beer will go to Osborne’s nonprofit, Paleo Quest, which runs educational programs in the sciences.

For his part, Akerboom will keep experimenting with yeast in the lab he runs at Lost Rhino. It’s not necessarily common for a small microbrewery to have a quality assurance scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology on staff. The Netherlands native previously isolated wild yeast from the air in Ashburn for Wild Farmwell Wheat, an “All-Virginia” beer Lost Rhino made in 2012. He now runs a yeast business on the side, and believes that focus on quality control is a big part of Lost Rhino’s consistently good beers.

“I think it adds a lot to the brewery. You have to make sure what you put in those cans is actually clean,” he said. “And you can do these kinds of projects, which keeps it fun.”

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/top-shelf/2014/06/whats-the-key-ingredient-in-lost-rhino-s-newest.html?page=2

When you’re trying to track a fish in the murky ocean, forget about using your eyes—use your ears. Dolphins, orcas, and other toothed whales—known as odontocetes—pinpoint their prey by producing high-frequency sounds that bounce around their marine environment and reveal exactly where tricky fish are trying to hide. But when did whales evolve this sonarlike ability, known as echolocation? A newly named, 28-million-year-old whale may hold the answer.

Found in South Carolina among rocks dating back to the Oligocene epoch and christened Cotylocara macei, the fossil whale is named after Mace Brown, a curator at the College of Charleston’s Mace Brown Natural History Museum in South Carolina who acquired the specimen for his private collection about a decade ago. It was in that private accumulation of fossils that Jonathan Geisler, a paleontologist at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, first saw the skull. “I knew it was special then,” he says.

The only known specimen of the early odontocete includes a nearly complete skull and jaw, three neck vertebrae, and fragments of seven ribs. It’s the skull that makes Cotylocara so remarkable. While the whale’s soft tissue rotted away long ago, the skull bones show several features—such as a downturned snout and a slight asymmetry of the skull—that suggest Cotylocara was one of the earliest whales to use echolocation, Geisler’s team reports online today in Nature.

The strongest pieces of evidence for this hypothesis, Geisler explains, are cavities at the base of the snout and on top of the skull that probably held air sinuses. “These air sinuses are thought to have important roles in the production of high-frequency vocalizations that living odontocetes use for echolocation,” Geisler says, possibly helping direct returning sound waves or store air that can be used to make continuous sound.

“I think the authors have a good case for inferring that Cotylocara had some ability to produce some sound from its forehead, just as living toothed whales do today,” says Nicholas Pyenson, a marine mammal paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. But even if Cotylocara made those sounds, could it have heard them? Living whales have specialized ear bones that let them hear the high-frequency sounds bouncing off their prey. The only known skull of Cotylocara doesn’t have well-preserved ear bones, and, therefore, knowing whether the whale could have actually used echolocation for hunting is unclear. “Overall, the description of Cotylocara underscores the need to investigate the inner ear of fossil Oligocene cetaceans in much more detail, because that’s where the answer will be,” Pyenson says.

Nevertheless, the whale’s probable sound-producing abilities give Cotylocara an important place in whale evolution. Whale’s biological sonar is thought to have evolved only once along the ancestral line leading to today’s toothed whales, Geisler notes. Cotylocara lies along that evolutionary stem, as do other Oligocene fossil whales that have already been found. The skull features that allowed Cotylocara to create sound, Geisler says, “can now be investigated in other fossil whales to more fully understand the evolution of echolocation.” For now, the evolutionary epic of whale echolocation is only just beginning to be heard.

http://news.sciencemag.org/paleontology/2014/03/fossil-whale-offers-clues-origins-seeing-sound

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

<img src="https://itsinterestingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/04

The Columbian Mammoth is about to become an official state symbol of South Carolina, but its path to the limelight was long and fraught with controversy.

Here's the text of the bill that made it official:

Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the ‘Columbian Mammoth’, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.

This is actually the watered-down version of the bill; one version, proposed earlier, made even more explicit references to the role of a divine creator in the mammoth’s history.

This all started when an 8-year-old suggested that the Columbian mammoth become South Carolina’s state fossil. Olivia McConnell had some good reasoning behind her suggestion: Mammoth teeth found in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 were the first vertebrate fossils identified in North America.

Her submission became a bill. The original draft was simple enough: “Section 1-1-691. The Wooly Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina.” But almost immediately the proposal ran into trouble. On a practical level: Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler objected strenuously to having any new state symbols enacted in a state that already has a state spider, state beverage and a state hospitality beverage among many others. On a philosophical level: proclaiming a state fossil in a state where there is still intense debate over teaching evolution as fact creates some problems.

From USA Today:

State Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who serves on the panel that will decide the science standards, said that natural selection should be taught as theory rather than as scientific fact. He argues that natural selection can make biological changes within species but it can’t explain the whole progression from microbes to humans.

“This whole subject should be taught as a pro and con,” he said.

Last week, Fair had raised his own objection that temporarily killed Olivia’s bill but withdrew it after another senator told him the story of the Lake City girl’s campaign to get an official state fossil.

Fair wasn’t the only one who had objections. Another State Senator, Kevin Bryant started a pushing a change that would add some biblical flair to the otherwise direct language. The New York Times:

But then Senator Kevin Bryant proposed an amendment rooted in the Book of Genesis, imputing God as the creator of the woolly mammoth: “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”
Bryant’s version was struck down, but the final version of the bill did include that language about the Mammoth being created on the sixth day.

There was one other addition, too. Frustrated by the amount of time spent discussing state symbols instead of governing, legislators also added an amendment to the bill prohibiting the General Assembly from enacting any new state symbols “until such time as the General Assembly directly by legislative enactment removes this moratorium.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/south-carolinas-state-fossil-creation-controversy-180950474/#4mOTlJmLsprzxrmM.99

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

 

Paleontologists working at Argentina’s Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata province found the fossil remains of an ancient penguin taller than most men. The bird stood six and half feet tall, and lived roughly 34 million years ago. The team’s lead researcher, Marcelo Reguero said the newly discovered species will “allow for a more intensive and complex study of the ancestors of modern penguins.”

“This is the largest penguin known to date in terms of height and body mass,” said team member Carolina Acosta. She also noted that the modern emperor penguin, which grows to about 4 feet tall had been the previous record holder.

The fossil was located on the icy continent of Antarctica; the team plans to return during the region’s summer to attempt to uncover more fossils from the ancient bird as well as study how it would have moved. Notably, past studies of other prehistoric penguins suggested that they were not black and white like the bird of today, but instead sported reddish brown and gray plumage.

http://www.examiner.com/article/6-5-foot-tall-prehistoric-penguin-fossil-uncovered-antarctica