News and Outreach Events 2015

Science Fest
IU Geological Sciences will be at Science Fest, Saturday, October 24th

The Indiana university Geophysical Society (IUGS) is preparing for this year’s Science Fest. Volunteers will be needed for a number of activity stations. Faculty members and students are very welcome to join, and help is very much appreciated!

We are currently looking for anyone who would like to volunteer for a shift (approximately 3 hours), or for those who would like to lead a particular station. All volunteers receive a free breakfast/lunch (depending on the time of day you volunteer) and a free t-shirt! If you are interested, please contact Anna Nowicki and we will put you on the schedule. Visit this page to learn more about Science Fest, and this page to view last year’s Geological Sciences activities. Contact Anna Nowicki for more information or to volunteer.

Exxon Mobil Corporation gift
Exxon Mobil Corporation Geosciences Incentive Gift to Department of Geological Sciences

Lisa Ryan, who is recruiting for the Exxon Mobil Corporation this week, presented a Geosciences Incentive gift to Lisa Pratt, Chair of the Department. This unrestricted grant allows the Department to allocate funds for education programs and projects deemed most appropriate for the Department’s mission. In the past, grants have funded scholarships, field trips, visiting speakers, equipment purchases, student and faculty travel to academic-related activities and other educational projects.

Exxon Mobil Corporation awards these gifts to institutions offering degrees in subjects from which it recruits employees. Grant amounts are based on several factors, one of which is the number of ExxonMobil employees who obtained degrees from the specific university. This program is one of many ExxonMobil efforts in support of education. In addition to the Departmental Grants Program, ExxonMobil supports education initiatives that encourage students to take an active interest in math and science careers, motivate students to learn and perform well in math and science, support the development of highly qualified teachers and provide teachers with professional development opportunities in math and science.

David Bish
The Societá Italiana di Mineralogia e Petrologia honors Professor David Bish

During their last meeting the Assembly members of the Societá Italiana di Mineralogia e Petrologia decided to award the Honorary Fellowship of the association to Dr. David Bish. The proposal has been presented by ten members and unanimously approved with the following motivation: In recognition of his internationally relevant scientific and organizing contribution to the advancement of the Mineralogical Sciences and his invaluable support to strengthen the scientific relationships between our Countries. (PDF)

David Dilcher
Emeritus Professor David Dilcher identifies what could be the mythical ’first flower’

From the IU Newsroom: Indiana University paleobotanist David Dilcher and colleagues in Europe have identified a 125 million- to 130 million-year-old freshwater plant as one of earliest flowering plants on Earth. The finding, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents a major change in the presumed form of one of the planet’s earliest flowers, known as angiosperms.

"This discovery raises significant questions about the early evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal life," said Dilcher, an emeritus professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geological Sciences.

The aquatic plant, Montsechia vidalii, once grew abundantly in freshwater lakes in what are now mountainous regions in Spain. Fossils of the plant were first discovered more than 100 years ago in the limestone deposits of the Iberian Range in central Spain and in the Montsec Range of the Pyrenees, near the country’s border with France. Also previously proposed as one of the earliest flowers is Archaefructus sinensis, an aquatic plant found in China. "A ’first flower’ is technically a myth, like the ’first human,’" said Dilcher, an internationally recognized expert on angiosperm anatomy and morphology who has studied the rise and spread of flowering plants for decades. "But based on this new analysis, we know now that Montsechia is contemporaneous, if not more ancient, than Archaefructus."

He also asserted that the fossils used in the study were "poorly understood and even misinterpreted" during previous analyses. Link to the IU Newsroom article

Doug Edmonds and Grad Student Rebecca Caldwell’s recent paper chosen for cover of Geology Magazine
Geology cover

Doug Edmonds and Rebecca Caldwell, a grad student working with Edmonds, are co-authors on the paper entitled, Fluvio-deltaic avulsions during relative sea-level fall. A.G. Nijhuis, D.A. Edmonds, R.L. Caldwell, J.A. Cederberg, R.L. Slingerland, J.L. Best, D.R. Parsons, and R.A.J. Robinson.

Abstract: Understanding river response to changes in relative sea level (RSL) is essential for predicting fluvial stratigraphy and source-to-sink dynamics. Recent theoretical work has suggested that rivers can remain aggradational during RSL fall, but field data are needed to verify this response and investigate sediment deposition processes. We show with field work and modeling that fluvio-deltaic systems can remain aggradational or at grade during RSL fall, leading to superelevation and continuation of delta lobe avulsions. The field site is the Goose River, Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada, which has experienced steady RSL fall of around 3–4 mm yr–1 in the past 5 k.y. from post-glacial isostatic rebound. Elevation analysis and optically stimulated luminescence dating suggest that the Goose River avulsed and deposited three delta lobes during RSL fall. Simulation results from Delft3D software show that if the characteristic fluvial response time is longer than the duration of RSL fall, then fluvial systems remain aggradational or at grade, and continue to avulse during RSL fall due to superelevation. Intriguingly, we find that avulsions become more frequent at faster rates of RSL fall, provided the system response time remains longer than the duration of RSL fall. This work suggests that RSL fall rate may influence the architecture of falling-stage or forced regression deposits by controlling the number of deposited delta lobes. (PDF)

IU Researcher Chen Zhu presented the Hydrogeochemistry talk at the Goldschmidt Conference Silver Anniversary Conference
Chen Zhu

Professor Chen Zhu, presented a 2015 Goldschmidt Conference Silver Anniversary talk in Prague, Czech Republic. The Goldschmidt conference is the largest annual gathering of the world’s geochemists. In commemoration of this 25th annual Goldschmidt conference the conference organized this series of 25 presentations, one representing each of our Goldschmidt themes. Each was by a renowned expert, provide both an overview of the largest advances of the past 25 years, and some personal insights into the future of each theme. Professor Zhu’s talk title was Hydrogeochemistry: Major Advances in Past 25 Years (1990-2015) and Projection for the Next 25 Years.

Geosciences graduate students Gus Schaefer and Chao Wang are co-authors on a paper that was presented at the 2015 Goldschmidt Conference in Prague, CZ.

Zhu, C., Liu, Z., Schaefer, A., Wang, C., Yuan, H. and Georg, R.B. Silicon isotopes as a new method of measuring silicate mineral reaction rates in the critical zone.

Abstract: Si doped experiments demonstrated that Si isotope doping is a robust new experimental technique for measuring silicate reaction kinetics. Albite dissolution batch experiments were conducted under ambient temperature and pH 37.5. In our experiments, initial solutions were doped with artificial Si, resulting in a Si isotopic composition highly anomalous to natural Si isotope compositions. The isotopic contrast and analytical precision of ±0.05 (unit in %) allow detection of the dissolution of a minute amount of albite in the aqueous solutions. Results show that the temporal evolution of Si and Si abundances in batch experiments (3-270 days) tightly bracketed the steady state albite dissolution rates, and the measured rates are consistent with literature data. Because the precipitation of secondary phases consumes silica but leaves the Si isotope ratios unchanged in experimental solutions, dissolution rates were still measurable when secondary phase precipitation took place in experiments. Meanwhile, the combination of Si isotopes and Si elementary concentrations, precisely determined with the Si isotope dilution method, allowed albite dissolution and secondary phase precipitation rates to be determined simultaneously. Experimental data illustrate that this method allows measurements of silicate reaction rates at precisions and conditions never before possible. The high detection sensitivity allows measuring steady state rates extending to longer experimental duration than previously possible at ambient temperatures. Freedom from interferences of secondary phase precipitation means we can now measure rates at circumneutral pH and near equilibrium conditions under which precipitation likely takes place. Particularly, measurements of rates close to equilibrium would help resolve the long-standing problem of field-lab gap in silicate dissolution rates. Conference website

USArray Data Processing for the Next Generation of Seismologists Short Course comes to IU

Geological Sciences and University Information Technology Services are hosting the Earthscope USArray Data Processing Short Course August 3-7, 2015, at Indiana University in Bloomington. Students in the course are graduate students in seismology from research universities all across the USA.

The purpose of the course is to teach and train the students in effectively handling the opportunities and challenges arising from the big data produced by USArray. USArray, a main pillar of the NSF Earthscope program, is a 400-instrument, continuously recording six-component seismic and atmospheric observational network that gradually occupied more than 2000 sites all over the USA.

The array is currently in the process of being redeployed in Alaska. The course is supported by the National Science Foundation through the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. Prof. Gary Pavlis is the local organizer of the course and one of ten course instructors.

The course will be held at the STC computer laboratory in Lindley 30. More Information

Ryan Yohler
Ryan Yohler receives AAPG Austin Weeks Undergraduate Grant

Geoscience undergrad Ryan Yohler received a grant from the AAPG L. Austin Weeks program at AAPG. Additionally, the Department Student Chapter of AAPG was awarded an Austin Weeks Grant for field trip support.

The L. Austin Weeks (LAW) Undergraduate Grant program awards deserving undergraduate level geoscience students and student-led geoscience associations (student chapters, associations and clubs) with $500 grants. These grants are intended to support the educational endeavors of undergraduate geoscience students and their student-led organizations. Thanks to generous contributors, including L. Austin Weeks and Marta Weeks-Wulf, the Foundation will proudly grant $76,000 in funds to geoscience students and student associations in 2015. More information about the L. Austin Weeks program.

June 30: Article in Scientific Reports connects research to hematite on Mars
figure 1

Self-organized iron-oxide cementation geometry as an indicator of paleo-flows. Yifeng Wang, Marjorie Chan, and Enrique Merino.

The leader author of the paper, Yifeng Wang of Sandia Labs, is an alumnus of our Department, and the second author, Marjorie Chan, is at the University of Utah.

Abstract: Widespread iron oxide precipitation from groundwater in fine-grained red beds displays various patterns, including nodulation, banding and scallops and fingers. Hematite nodules have been reported also from the Meridiani Planum site on Mars and interpreted as evidence for the ancient presence of water on the red planet. Here we show that such patterns can autonomously emerge from a previously unrecognized Ostwald ripening mechanism and they capture rich information regarding ancient chemical and hydrologic environments. A linear instability analysis of the reaction-transport equations suggests that a pattern transition from nodules to bands may result from a symmetry breaking of mineral dissolution and precipitation triggered by groundwater advection. Round nodules tend to develop under nearly stagnant hydrologic conditions, while repetitive bands form in the presence of persistent water flows. Since water circulation is a prerequisite for a sustainable subsurface life, a Martian site with iron oxide precipitation bands, if one were found, may offer a better chance for detecting extraterrestrial biosignatures on Mars than would sites with nodules. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 10792 doi:10.1038/srep10792. Received 26 March 2013 Accepted 17 April 2015 Published 30 June 2015 Link to the article in Nature

Department and Indiana Geological Survey faculty members participate in summer 2015 Mini University

From the IU Newsroom: "Mini University, a weeklong learning vacation sponsored by the Indiana University Alumni Association and IU Lifelong Learning, will hold its 44th annual program June 7 to 12 on the IU Bloomington campus."

Five Geoscience faculty members will give a series of presentations ranging from Mars research to severe weather on Earth:

  • The Mars Science Laboratory Experience. David Bish, Geological Sciences
  • The Importance and Success of Co-Evolution for Humanity and the World We Live In. David Dilcher, Biology Emeritus
  • What the Frack?! Can Human Activity Really Trigger Earthquakes? Michael Hamburger and John Rupp, Geological Sciences and Geological Survey
  • Severe Weather: What Is It and How Did It Get Here? Cody Kirkpatrick, Geological Sciences.

News Release

Anna Nowicki
Graduate Student Anna Nowicki receives a Sustainability Research Development Grant

Anna Nowicki, a graduate student in Geophysics, received a grant for her work entitled, "Can we mitigate the impact of earthquake-induced landslides?" The committee considered a record number of proposals and had limited funds to allocate.

Quoting from the award letter the Committee writes, "Thank you again for your outstanding proposal and dedication to sustainability research. Given the recent events in Nepal, the committee was struck by the timeliness of your proposal, and the likelihood that it will contribute to safer, more sustainable communities." Ms. Nowicki will present her research at the Office of Sustainability Spring Symposium in 2016.


Michael Hamburger Named Jefferson Science Fellow
Michael Hamburger

From the IU Newsroom: Indiana University Bloomington geologist Michael Hamburger has been named a 2015-16 Jefferson Science Fellow. He will spend the academic year in Washington, D.C., working on science policy issues with the U.S. State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Jefferson Science Fellowship Program is a competitive program that selects midcareer and senior scientists to work as science advisors on foreign policy issues. Administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the program builds capacity for science expertise within the federal government. Read the article

April 8th and 9th – The Department hosted Arcadis environmental consultancy

Recruiters with Arcadis were in the Department to conduct job interviews.

Geology Job Description: ARCADIS is seeking a detail oriented, well organized, dependable Geologist or Environmental Scientist to join our rapidly growing and dynamic organization. This entry level full-time position requires strict adherence to health and safety procedures, attention to detail, strong work ethic, and excellent communication skills. ARCADIS’ annual performance-based evaluations provide an opportunity for candidates to advance their career within the company.

Responsibilities include a combination of field- and office-related tasks and may include travel for extended periods.

General ARCADIS Description: ARCADIS is the leading global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm working in partnership with our clients to deliver exceptional and sustainable outcomes through the application of design, consultancy, engineering, project and management services.

ARCADIS differentiates through its talented and passionate people and its unique combination of capabilities covering the whole asset life cycle, its deep market sector insights and its ability to integrate health & safety and sustainability into the design and delivery of solutions across the globe.

We are 28,000 people who generate $3.8 billion in revenues. We support UN-Habitat with knowledge and expertise to improve the quality of life in rapidly growing cities around the world.

March 27-28: 15th Annual Crossroads Geology Conference

Crossroads is a student-organized event featuring research presentations by graduate and undergraduate students across the Midwest. This conference is open to any student in Earth, atmospheric, or planetary science to present their research. Students from other fields, such as archaeology, physics, or anthropology, are also welcome to present research relating to geological sciences.

Crossroads is free to all students and is an excellent opportunity to interact with judges from a variety of industry and academic fields. Awards were presented to top oral and poster presentations for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, students were encouraged to participate in networking sessions and a career skills workshop presented by a retired lead Anadarko recruiter.

Drilling down on fracking in Indiana – IU Bloomington Professor Michael Hamburger in HT interview

Fron the IU Newsroom, a courtesy posting of a Bloomington Herald-Times article: Geologists and environmental activists have been raising concerns for years about increased hydraulic fracturing – called "fracking" for short – and other unconventional oil production methods in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing is the drilling and injection of fluid into the ground to create cracks in rock formations and release natural gas, oil and other energy-producing resources.

"It turns out that many things that we do that affect the subsurface of the Earth are also capable of triggering earthquakes,” said Michael Hamburger, a professor of geological sciences at Indiana University. “This is one of the unexpected side effects of oil and gas exploration. There are places in Kansas or Texas that have never experienced an earthquake that have now experienced an earthquake and have no idea what to do about them." IU Newsroom article

Indiana University geochemists model underground movement of stored carbon dioxide

Fron the IU Newsroom: Computer modeling by geochemists at Indiana University and colleagues in China and Sweden takes scientists several steps closer to understanding what happens when greenhouse gases are injected deep underground in a process called carbon capture and storage. Chen Zhu, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and lead author of an article in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control entitled, "Benchmark modeling of the Sleipner CO2 plume: Calibration to seismic data for the uppermost layer and model sensitivity analysis" said the model should apply to similar underground storage systems elsewhere, including carbon capture and storage projects that could be built in the U.S. Midwest.
link to the IU Newsroom article | link to the journal article

March 7 - Petrel Short Course

On Saturday morning, March 7, the department will be sponsoring a short course for the software packaged called Petrel. Petrel is one of the definitive packages used by petroleum geologists worldwide. Schlumberger has given us a license for 20 seats for this short course. The package is now installed on all student technology center Windows computer labs under the "Schlumberger" menu. Justin Stigall, who works for British Petroleum will be teaching this short course.

If you are interested in participating, contact Gary Pavlis by the end of the day on Friday, Feb. 27.

Questions? Visit the Crossroads website or email Scott David.

Life reconstruction of the skeleton of Agilodocodon scansorius (from Meng et al., 2015).
David Grossnickle is a contributing author on Science article

Recent IU alum David M. Grossnickle, now at University of Chicago, helped describe the oldest known tree-dwelling mammal, Agilodocodon scansorius, from the Jurassic of China, whose specializations indicate that it feed on plant sap and other foodstuffs. Agilodocodon was a docodont, a stem branch of the mammalian radiation whose ecological specializations are now known to include not only tree-dwellers but also beaver-like swimming species, small burrowing species, and a range of dietary specializations from herbivorous to insectivorous. Grossnickle helped demonstrate that the proportions of the animal's limbs are more consistent with a climbing lifestyle than with other modes of life. The paper was published in the journal Science on 13 February 2015.

About his contribution, David writes, "I helped analyze the finger bone dimensions of the fossil and found that they are most similar to modern tree-dwelling mammals, providing strong evidence for our conclusion that the species lived in trees. This is especially significant because it means close relatives of mammals were diversifying ecologically in the Middle Jurassic, which is prior to similar diversifications by later mammal groups. The research benefitted heavily from quantitative methods and anatomical knowledge that I learned while studying under David Polly and Jackson Njau at Indiana University."

Full citation: Meng, Q.-J., Q. Ji, Y.-G. Zhang, D. Liu, D. M. Grossnickle, Z.-X. Luo. 2015. An arboreal docodont from the Jurassic and mammaliaform ecological diversification. Science, 347: 764-768. DOI

Other articles regarding this find are from the University of Chicago News, "Earliest-known arboreal and subterranean ancestral mammals discovered " and "Found: Two sophisticated mammals that thrived during the age of the dinosaurs" from the AAAS Science website.

Bi-monthly DOGS Lunch
DOGS lunch

What is it?

  • An informal lunch-time gathering for all undergraduate and graduate students and Faculty and Post-docs
  • Bring your own lunch
  • Snacks or desserts will be provided
  • Time to meet other people in the department and learn about ongoing research projects
  • Excellent opportunity for undergrads to meet faculty and grad students

When/where is it? Twice a month. Dates will be announced.

tectonic field trip
G420: Regional Tectonic field trip, May 10-23, 2015

A regional tectonic field course across the Appalachians from central Pennsylvania to Boston crossing many suspect terranes is being offered. Emphasis will be placed on interpreting the rock record.

This will include:

  • making mineralogical, petrologic, and structural observations, and
  • inductively synthesizing these observations into an understanding of the geological history of an outcrop or set of outcrops.
  • integrating the geology learned from this collection of outcrops to an increased understanding of the Paleozoic evolution of the Appalachian orogen.

Skills expected to be sharpened include:

  • hand lens petrography
  • igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic petrology
  • recognition of multiple cleavages and fabrics, and use of the Brunton compass to measure their attitudes,
  • structural mapping by pace and compass,
  • and manipulation of stereonets

The course will be offered for 3 credits in the second 8 weeks of this semester, and will involve weekly meetings in seminar format to prepare for the field trip. The trip itself will actually leave Bloomington Sunday, May 10 (or Saturday, May 9 if possible) and return by May 21 or at the latest May 23rd.

Registration for 3 credits in Summer Intensive Session I can be considered but participation in seminars is required.

Prerequisites: Required - Competence in G222, Petrology. Recommended, G323. Structural Geology.

See Bob Wintsch (Gy 325) for details and authorization to register.

February 18: Department Co-hosts James Balog
James Balog poster

The Department of Geological Sciences was very excited to co-host the upcoming visit of James Balog, geologist-turned-arctic-photographer and climate activist.

James was here for a two-day residency that involved lectures, a film screening, photographic exhibition, and visits with classes and IU student groups. Featured events included a public lecture Wednesday, February 18, 7:30pm, at IMU’s Whittenberger Auditorium and a screening of the award-winning documentary "Chasing Ice" on Thursday, February 19, 7:00 PM at the IU Cinema, followed by a Q&A with IU Cinema director Jon Vickers. The Wednesday lecture was followed by a reception. Mr. Balog was available to sign copies of his book, ICE: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, in collaboration with the IU Friends of Art Bookshop.

About James Balog: For more than 30 years, James Balog has broken new conceptual and artistic ground on one of the most important issues of our era: human modification of our planet’s natural systems. He and his Extreme Ice Survey team are featured in the 2012 internationally acclaimed documentary, Chasing Ice (featuring the Academy-award nominated music by Scarlett Johanssen and IU’s own Joshua Bell), and in the 2009 NOVA special, Extreme Ice. His TED Talk, Time-lapse Proof of Extreme Ice Loss, is broadly acclaimed as providing vivid and compelling evidence of climate change in the arctic.

Balog has been honored with many awards, including the American Geophysical Union Presidential Citation for Science and Society, the Duke University LEAF Award, and the Sam & Julie Walters Prize for Environmental Activism. He is the author of ICE: Portraits of Vanishing Glass and seven other books. His photos have been extensively published in major magazines, including National Geographic, and exhibited at more than one hundred museums and galleries worldwide. In 2009, he served as a NASA representative at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

The events surrounding Balog’s visit were featured as part of the Student Sustainability Council’s SustainIU Week, February 16 – 20. All events were free and open to the public. Advance tickets for the film screening are available at the Indiana University Auditorium Box Office.

  • Exhibition of James Balog’s Photographs and Videos: Hodge Hall, Kelley School of Business, Jan 12- Mar 31. Hours: M-Th: 7:30AM-9:30PM; F: 7:30AM-7:00PM; Weekends: 8AM-8PM.
  • Ben Brabson Commemorative Lecture: The Art and Science of Chasing Ice, 7:30 PM, February 18, Whittenberger Auditorium, IMU, Reception and book signing to follow
  • Film Screening, Chasing Ice: 7:00PM, February 19, IU Cinema, Q&A to follow
February 4, 2015: Department mourns the passing of Professor Haydn Murray
Haydn Murray

Prof. Haydn H. Murray passed away peacefully on February 4, 2015 in Bloomington, IN. Many of you are familiar with Haydn’s varied scientific contributions to applied clay science, and he was one of the few members of our science elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003. In addition, he made tremendous contributions to many aspects of Indiana University and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2004. Prof. Murray mentored an incredible group of graduate students including 68 M.S. and Ph.D. students, and he served on an additional 60 graduate committees. He was also instrumental in establishing the Grassmann Fellowship for clay mineralogy graduate students and the Haydn Murray Chair of Applied Clay Mineralogy in the Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University. His presence will be missed in the Indiana University community and in the greater international mineralogical community.

A memorial service was held for Professor Murray February 21, 2015 in the Tudor Room at the Indiana Memorial Union. If you were close to Haydn or the family, Juanita, Haydn’s wife of more than 70 years, would be happy to hear from you. Her address is: 901 S. Fieldcrest Ct., Bloomington, IN 47401

A bill has been introduced in the Indiana Legislature to designate a state fossil for Indiana: the elegant sea lily, Elegantocrinus hemisphaericus.
elegant sea lily

Elegantocrinus hemisphaericus, the Elegant sea lily, is a crinoid, a group of animals that are related to starfish and sea urchins. Elegantocrinus was first discovered at Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1865.

This crinoid was first described from the famous Mississippian-aged Borden Group crinoid beds at Crawfordsville, Indiana. Originally classified in the genus Platycrinites, the species was moved to the new genus Elegantocrinus by department alum Bill Ausich (now of Ohio State University) and Tom Kammer. The platycrinid group is distinctive in having oval shaped columnals, which are the round bits that made up the stem of the crinoid, common around Monroe Lake and elsewhere. E. hemisphaericus itself is also found at Monroe Lake.

The 500 Earth Sciences Club and the Indiana Society of Paleontology are the groups that have worked to push the bill forward. Both sites have a photo of a beautiful calyx of E. hemisphaericus on their homepage. The bill is SB114, which is introduced by the bipartisan pair of Mark Stoops (District 40 - Bloomington’s senator) and Philip Boots (District 23 - Crawfordville’s senator) can be viewed here. SB114 has initially been assigned to the senate rules committee.

David Bish and colleagues
Evolution of the snake body form reveals homoplasy in amniote Hox gene function

From the Bloomington Newsroom: Skeleton study sheds new light on how snakes evolved

Research by paleontologists at Indiana University and the University of Nebraska sheds new light on how snakes evolved their elongated, legless bodies.

Hox genes, which establish the boundaries of the neck, trunk, lumbar, sacral and tail regions in birds, lizards, crocodiles and mammals, were previously thought to have been disrupted in snakes, resulting in a loss of regions in their seemingly simplified body form as they evolved from four-legged lizard ancestors.

P. David Polly of Indiana University and Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln examined regional differences in the shapes of individual vertebral bones in snakes, lizards, alligators and mice. Snakes are different from these other amniote groups in that they lack forelimbs, shoulder girdles and sternal skeletons. Snake vertebrae were assumed to have become less regionalized when the limbs were lost. IU Newsroom article and the Nature article