Linkage 1/28: Dinosaurs, Nabokov’s Butterflies, and Virtual Surgery

(Copyright Todd Marshall)

Eodromaeus, or "Dawn Runner" (Copyright Todd Marshall)

While ScienceLife was away at the Science Online 2011 meeting two weeks ago, our friends in the University of Chicago News Office tried to sneak a dinosaur story past us. Eodromaeus, the “dawn runner,” is the latest edition to the dinosaur discovery menagerie of Paul Sereno, professor of organismal biology and anatomy, discovered in the fossil dig site of Argentina known as the “Valley of the Moon.” While only four feet tall and roughly 10-15 pounds, Eodromaeus was (as Chicago Tribune great Bill Mullen puts it) a “nasty looking little critter,” a carnivorous predecessor to the T. Rex in a time (230 million years ago) when dinosaurs were not yet the dominant lifeform on the scene. [You can watch a cool time-lapse movie of the reconstruction of Eodromaeus here, as well as an interview with Sereno about the discovery and its significance for the rise of dinosaurs.]

As the excellent fossil blogger Brian Switek describes at the Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Tracking site, the discovery of Eodromaeus rearranges scientific theories about the early days of dinosaurs. A previous discovery of Sereno’s team in the same area, Eoraptor or “dawn plunderer,” was once thought to be an ancestor of the larger meat-eating dinosaurs that came later. But comparing the teeth of Eoraptor and its neighbor Eodromaeus suggests that the former was actually an omnivore ancestor of the more benevolent sauropods, with Eodromaeus near at the top of the T. Rex family tree.

“We’re looking at the dawn of the dinosaur era where the fork in the road is still very narrow in the divergence of plant eaters from meat eaters,” Sereno told the Tribune. “That is why Eoraptor and Eodromaeus look so much alike.”

But as in Hollywood, your 15 minutes of fame are very short in the world of dinosaurs. In the mere two weeks since Eodromaeus was unveiled, another thunder lizard has stolen the spotlight: the hilarious-looking Linhenykus, the “one-fingered” dinosaur. Seriously, imagine trying not to laugh as one of these ran towards you (bear in mind that they were also small enough to “s[t]and comfortably in the palm of your hand.”). As Switek points out at Dinosaur Tracking, a current theory goes that Linhenykus, and other dinosaurs with one pronounced digit, may have used their comedically short arms to dig for ants and termites.

Nabokov’s Hobby

The research of lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov never quite got the credit it deserved while he was alive and working as curator of butterflies at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Perhaps it was his outlandish ideas, about butterflies migrating from Asia through Siberia and Alaska and down to South America. Or perhaps it was because he was better known as the experimental novelist responsible for Lolita, Pale Fire, and other books. Catching and studying butterflies was a lifelong hobby for the Russian-born Nabokov, but despite publishing at least one manuscript (pdf, found via Carl Zimmer’s twitter) on the evolution of a group of species known as Polyommatus blues, he was largely ignored by the scientific community as an amateur.

But 66 years later, this week, a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London confirmed that Nabokov had the scientific chops to go with his more famous literary skill. A team of authors (including one at Chicago’s Field Museum) used genetic methods undreamed of in Nabokov’s time to confirm that the author was in fact right in his theory about the migration and evolution of Polyommatus blues – a gradual flight over the Bering Strait from Asia to the Americas. The New York Times has a great round-up of the research and Nabokov’s fascination with the winged insects.

UChicago Experts in the News

Diabetes is traditionally thought of as a disease of the hormone insulin, but a new mouse study from the University of Texas Southwestern points to another metabolic hormone: glucagon. Louis Philipson, director of the Kovler Diabetes Center, comments on the study for the Dallas Morning News.

Earlier this week, ScienceLife talked about neonatologist William Meadow‘s call for better prognostics for preemies in the NICU. The next day, NBC Chicago ran an excellent piece breaking down health care costs for premature infants and adults at the end of life, as part of the recent controversies over Medicare coverage of end-of-life counseling. Meadow and David Meltzer, associate professor of medicine and public policy, are both featured in the segment.

Today’s doctors in training can now supplement the hundreds of hours of experience they need in patients with the latest in technology to simulate procedures and diagnosis. Peter Cameron at the Chicago Tribune talks to physicians around Chicago about their use of such technology, including our own Stephen Small, director of the Center for Simulation and Safety in Healthcare.

About Rob Mitchum (515 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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