Quirks & Quarks

Apr 16: Legless fossils, smells of the past, research with Russia and more…

Sleeping sharks and the new story of the first peoples in the Americas.

Sleeping sharks and the new story of the first peoples in the Americas.

Artist's recreation of a 305 million year old animal with elongated body exhibiting loss of front legs. (Paleoartist: Henry Sharpe)

On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

The first land animal to go legless three hundred million years ago

Early vertebrates put in a lot of effort evolving fins into the legs that would carry them up on to land. Now a newly studied 305 million year old fossil suggests one ungrateful lineage decided to abandon its limbs for snake-like slithering almost immediately after. Hillary Maddin, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth Sciences at Carleton University, was part of the team that analyzed the fossil. Their work was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution

What did history smell like? New field of science aims to find out

Most archeology is aimed at digging up artifacts that can tell us what the ancient past looked like. But in a new paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, PhD candidate Barbara Huber, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, issues a call to action. She's urging fellow archaeologists to focus on what the past smelled like. By using the latest biomolecular technology, Huber has been able to extract scent residues from perfumes and incense in pots dating back thousands of years, and has even extracted spices from the proteins in ancient skeletal teeth. Huber says that these scents can paint a vivid picture about trade routes, societal hierarchies, and rituals.

Fisheries researcher Evgeny Pakhomov took this picture just after he was taken off the Russian research ship Tinro. (Evgeny Pakhomov)

This Canadian researcher was trapped on a Russian ship as war broke out

Evgeny Pakhomov, a professor in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, found himself in an unenviable position when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. He was chief scientist for an international research expedition to study salmon on the high seas, with investigators from Canada, Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Russia. Which is why he ended up on board a Russian fisheries research vessel in the middle of the Pacific, with no way to get home.

Sharks sleep, sometimes with their eyes wide open

Craig Radford, an associate professor of marine science at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, found that, contrary to popular belief, sharks, just like humans, sleep to conserve energy. The team correlated a resting body posture with reduced metabolic activity, which indicated sleep. They were surprised to find, however, that sometimes sharks sleep with their eyes wide open. The research was published in the Royal Society Biology Letters.

Sharks like this draughtsboard or carpet shark really do sleep, and sometimes they do it wit their eyes open (Paul Caiger)

A new book puts together the story of how people came to the Americas

Over the last 30 years new archeological discoveries and DNA evidence have rewritten the story of the first people in the Americas. We now know people were here earlier than we'd thought, and much more about where they came from and how they got here. Bob speaks with anthropologist Jennifer Raff about the new story and her book, Origin, A Genetic History of the Americas.

Origin by Jennifer Raff (Twelve Books)


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