"Interpreting Geochemical Biomarkers in the Light of Genomics"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Building 54, 915/923
21 AMES ST, Cambridge, MA 02139

EAPS Department Lecture
Speaker: David Gold (Caltech)

Biological compounds preserved in rocks can function as biomarkers, providing insight into long-extinct organisms. Because scientists understand many of the biological pathways necessary to synthesize biomarkers, the genetic and geochemical records can be used to inform each other, and improve our understanding of these “molecular fossils.” In this talk, I will focus on one class of biomarkers (the steranes) and consider what we do and don’t understand about these compounds in light of biological data. In some cases, molecular clock analyses have lined up well with the biomarker record, confirming our expectations, but in other cases the two lines of data are in conflict. When biomarkers are considered within a phylogenetic (evolutionary) framework, I suggest that there is a lot of uncertainty remaining in the interpretation of steranes. I will conclude by offering several areas of research that should help distinguish between current competing hypotheses about the biomarker record and the evolution of complex life.

About the Speaker

My research spans the study of evolution from the perspective of the fossil record and other disciplines such as molecular biology. I focus on invertebrate groups such as annelids and molluscs and test our ideas of their evolution and their fossil record with molecular biological techniques to obtain independent estimates of phylogeny and divergence timing. I also have a particular interest in fossilization processes: Taphonomy. Currently I am working on the preservation of melanin in fossils and how we can use this evidence to reconstruct color patterns in feathered dinosaurs.

About the Series

EAPS interdisciplinary Department Lecture Series (DLS) brings both national and international speakers into the department to share their work. In addition EAPS sponsors a number of annual flagship named lectures, among them the Brace Lecture, the Kendall Lecture, and the Carlson Lecture. All such lectures and seminars are free and open to the public. To be added to EAPS event listserve contact Brandon Milardo, bmilardo@mit.edu.

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Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
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