News

Friday, April 18, 2014

A new Mandarin translation of Charles Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species" is flying off bookstore shelves in China. The book previously was unavailable in that country except as translated from its sixth edition, which specialists today view as flawed.

 "There have been at least half a dozen of versions available since the early 1950s, all based on the sixth — and the last — edition," said Desui Miao, collection manager with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, who authored the new translation. "But the sixth edition represents Darwin’s back-paddling from his original views, concessions to some unfounded criticisms, and retreats from its earlier editions, and thus is now considered less favorably by Darwin scholars and evolutionary biologists."

On the Origin of SpeciesPublished last October to critical and academic acclaim, Miao’s Chinese translation already has sold about 10,000 copies — "phenomenal" sales for a book considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Miao said that the concept for the translation began with a publishing house looking for the right person to bring Darwin’s ideas to a modern Chinese readership.

"The Darwin 200 Beijing International Conference was held at Peking University in fall of 2009 to commemorate Darwin’s 200-year birthday and the publication of the 'Origin of Species' for 150 years," he said. "A renowned publisher specialized in translation of foreign language books — mainly literature and humanity — into Chinese, Yilin Press, came to the conference to solicit a translator to translate the ‘Origin’ for their ‘Essential Ideas’ series. Although I was not present at the conference, my name was recommended to the publisher by several distinguished Chinese colleagues."

The KU researcher said that initially he felt reluctant to take on the work of translating the father of modern biology.

"I was approached by the publisher, and I first turned them down out of the fear it of being too time-consuming, which turns out to be correct," said Miao. "I later changed my mind after the publisher had convinced me of its importance to the Chinese audience."

Indeed, the effort took Miao about two years. He drew upon his expertise as a biologist as well as his skills with both the Chinese and English languages.

"Mandarin Chinese is my mother tongue; however, English has been my everyday working language for more than 30 years," he said. But even with Miao’s bilingual ability and scientific expertise, he found translating some of Darwin’s passages to be demanding. "Of course, it’s difficult to find the right words, mot juste, in Chinese to convey the exact meaning of their English counterparts," said Miao. "For example, ‘descent with modification’ was very difficult to translate, and I’m not entirely happy with what I’ve come up with. There are convoluted sentences in places throughout the book, but overall Darwin wrote clearly — because his thinking was crystal clear."

Unlike in the U.S., where Darwin’s theories have touched off controversies since their publication in the 19th century, Miao said China has never seen dissent over evolution "because the lack of religious zeal." But, he said there have been misunderstandings of the book. Perhaps the researcher’s new translation could help to clear up Darwin’s ideas and further boost China’s growing status in the field of evolutionary biology.

"They have strengths in several areas, such as paleobiology, vertebrate zoology and conservation biology," said Miao. "The 'Origin' is not an easy read, even in its English original, and thus is widely talked about but seldom read from cover to cover. This translation is more faithful to the original, easier to read and hopefully will encourage people to finish reading the book."


News Type:
Research News
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

K. Christopher Beard, the Mary R. Dawson Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a world-renowned paleontologist, is joining the University of Kansas as its latest Foundation Distinguished Professor. Beard is the second eminent scholar to join KU as part of the Foundation Professor initiative.

“By any measure, Professor Beard is one of the most outstanding intellects in his field and the epitome of the collaborative scholar,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “His peers use phrases like ‘most brilliant of his generation,’ ‘an excellent teacher’ and ‘most important of the last 30 years’ in describing his work. I’m thrilled to add ‘Foundation Distinguished Professor’ and ‘Jayhawk’ to that list.”

Beard has served as Dawson Chair at the Carnegie Museum, widely regarded among the nation’s top-five natural history museums, since 2008. In 2000, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “Genius Award,” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He has served at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History since 1989.

“For a paleontologist in my field, access to fossil specimens is key, and when you consider KU’s combination of one the top ecology and evolutionary biology programs, the excellent Biodiversity Institute and its outstanding collections, I had a very strong attraction to this university,” Beard said. “I have worked with a number of KU graduates over the years, so I am very familiar with the quality of the program. I have been greatly impressed with the positive, collaborative environment and am eager to begin working in Lawrence.”

Beard’s publication record contains more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, including in top-ranked journals such as Nature, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and Proceedings of the Royal Society, and three books and edited volumes, including “The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey,” which received the 2005 W.W. Howells Book Award and the 2005 Science Book Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He serves as editor on three professional journals and as an executive committee member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Beard’s role at KU will be as a Foundation Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator at the Biodiversity Institute. He will contribute to a KU paleontology program ranked No. 7 in the nation in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings. He will join the KU faculty Tuesday, April 1.

“The addition of Professor Beard to one of our most outstanding disciplines promises to raise the level of comprehensiveness, authority and reputation of KU nationally and internationally,” said Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “KU has a proud history in paleontology and a tremendous current collection of faculty and research talent, and now an even brighter future thanks to our newest Foundation Distinguished Professor. He is an excellent addition as a researcher, educator and mentor and ideally suited to play a leadership role in advancing paleontology at KU.”

Beard earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate from the functional anatomy and evolution program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1990.

Joining Beard at KU will be his wife and frequent collaborator, Sandra Olsen, who will serve as professor of museum studies and senior curator at the Biodiversity Institute. She will join the KU faculty on Aug. 18.

KU’s Foundation Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract eminent faculty members to support one of the university’s four strategic initiative themes. Beard is the second of 12 such eminent scholars who will join KU. In his role as Foundation Distinguished Professor, Beard will play a leadership role in advancing KU’s strategic initiative theme Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge.

News Type:
In the News
Sunday, December 1, 2013

A group of University of Kansas researchers working with Chinese colleagues have discovered a venomous, birdlike raptor that thrived some 128 million years ago in China. This is the first report of venom in the lineage that leads to modern birds.

“This thing is a venomous bird for all intents and purposes,” said Larry Martin, KU professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute. “It was a real shock to us and we made a special trip to China to work on this.”

The KU-China team’s findings will be published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science this week.

“We think it’s going to make a big splash,” said Martin.

The article’s authors are Enpu Gong, geology department at Northeastern University in Shenyang, China, and researchers Martin, David Burnham and Amanda Falk at the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute.

The dromaeosaur or raptor, Sinornithosaurus (Chinese-bird-lizard), is a close relative to Velociraptor. It lived in prehistoric forests of northeastern China that were filled with a diverse assemblage of animals including other primitive birds and dinosaurs.

“This is an animal about the size of a turkey,” said Martin. “It’s a specialized predator of small dinosaurs and birds. It was almost certainly feathered. It’s a very close relative of the four-winged glider called Microraptor.”

The venom most likely sent the victim into rapid shock, shrinking the odds of retaliation, escape or piracy from other predators while the raptor manipulated its prey.

“You wouldn’t have seen it coming,” said Burnham. “It would have swooped down behind you from a low-hanging tree branch and attacked from the back. It wanted to get its jaws around you. Once the teeth were embedded in your skin the venom could seep into the wound. The prey would rapidly go into shock, but it would still be living, and it might have seen itself being slowly devoured by this raptor.”
The genus had special depressions on the side of its face thought by the investigators to have housed a venom gland, connected by a long lateral depression above the tooth row that delivered venom to a series of long, grooved teeth on the upper jaw. This arrangement is similar to the venom-delivery system in modern rear-fanged snakes and lizards. The researchers believe it to be specialized for predation on birds.

“When we were looking at Sinornithosaurus, we realized that its teeth were unusual, and then we began to look at the whole structure of the teeth and jaw, and at that point, we realized it was similar to modern-day snakes,” Martin said.

Sinornithosaurus is represented by at least two species. These specimens have features consistent with a primitive venom-delivery system. The KU-China research team said it was a low-pressure system similar to the modern Beaded lizard, Heloderma, however the prehistoric Sinornithosaurus had longer teeth to break through layers of feathers on its bird victims.

The discovery of features thought to be associated with a venom-delivery system in Sinornithosaurus stemmed from a study of the anatomy and ecology of Microraptor by the joint Chinese-KU team. They now are seeking to discover if Microraptor may have possessed a similar poison-delivery system.

 

 

News Type:
Research News
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vertebrate Paleontology graduate student Josh Schmerge took third place among winners of the graduate poster competition during the recent G-Hawk symposium

News Type:
Student News
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paleontologists at the KU Biodiversity Institute are excited at the chance to study the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

A St. Louis museum determined it would no longer keep the collection, and gave it to KU for care and study.

David Burnham, fossil preparatory, says the fossil's age isn't clear but it's not believed to be full grown. To determine the age, Kansas paleontologists will search for more remains where the fossil was found in Jordan, Mont.

News Type:
Research News
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In a recent issue of Palaeoworld, KU paleontologists and colleagues describe a new species of Microraptor from northeastern China that provides new information on the characteristics of the genus and anatomical details suggesting a gliding behavior.

In the paper, "A new species of Microraptor from the Jehol Biota of northeastern China," the authors assert that although specimens of Microraptor have been known for at least a decade, the completeness of the new fossil provides additional morphology that highlights the uniqueness of this taxon. The new specimen, Microraptor hanqingi, is the key to understanding the evolutionary significance of hindlimb wings. A four-winged structure present on an organism sharing an evolutionary lineage leading to modern birds implies that gliding was a stage in the development of avian flight.

M. hanqingi represents the largest known microraptorian from China with a total length of approximately 1 meter and was closely-related to the venomous form, Sinornithosaurus.

The authors of the article are En-Pu Gong, Larry D.Martin, David A. Burnham, Amanda R.Falk, and Lian-HaiHou. The article was published in the June 2012 edition of Palaeoworld.

News Type:
In the News
Monday, December 19, 2011

Among the 51 new members to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in December 2011 is Dr. Zhonghe Zhou, who earned his doctorate in 1999 at the University of Kansas.

Zhou is the Director of Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), CAS, Beijing, China, which is an internationally known paleontological research institution.

Zhou studied at KU between 1995 and 1999 with Larry Martin, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute and professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Zhou is regarded one of the most distinguished vertebrate paleontologists in the world. His research on early evolution of birds and flight has been published in several science journals, and he was elected a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2010. He is also the Vice President of International Paleontological Association and of Paleontological Society of China.

At 46, he is the youngest member in the Division of Earth Sciences of CAS. Membership in CAS is considered the pinnacle of achievement for a scientist in China.

News Type:
Research News
Monday, December 19, 2011
Jennifer Humphrey 785.864.2344

Among the 51 new members to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in December 2011 is Dr. Zhonghe Zhou, who earned his doctorate in 1999 at the University of Kansas.

Zhou is the Director of Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), CAS, Beijing, China, which is an internationally known paleontological research institution.

Zhou studied at KU between 1995 and 1999 with Larry Martin, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute and professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Zhou is regarded one of the most distinguished vertebrate paleontologists in the world. His research on early evolution of birds and flight has been published in several science journals, and he was elected a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2010. He is also the Vice President of International Paleontological Association and of Paleontological Society of China.

At 46, he is the youngest member in the Division of Earth Sciences of CAS. Membership in CAS is considered the pinnacle of achievement for a scientist in China.

News Type:
Research News
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bird

A new discovery by researchers from the University of Kansas and China pushes back by millions of years proof that birds’ digestive systems have ancient origins. The investigators found fossil evidence of a crop — the muscular pocket in the esophagus that most modern birds use to store and soften seeds — in two avian species from the Early Cretaceous, the most recent period of the Mesozoic Era, about 130 million years ago.

Their discovery is to be published in a forthcoming edition of the influential journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

“We think that perhaps the development of a gizzard and a crop are specialization for eating seeds, and it was eating seeds that may have been one of the great motivations for birds to lose their teeth,” said Larry Martin, professor and senior curator at the KU Biodiversity Institute. “It shows that seed eating was an important driving force in the early diversification and radiation of modern-type birds.” 

The two species showing evidence of crops, Sapeornis and Hongshanornis, were located in the collection of the Tianya Museum of Nature in Shandong Province, China. Fossils of both species contained preserved seeds in the anatomical location of the crop in modern birds. Additionally, some specimens show a soft tissue structure that closely matches the outline of a crop in birds today.

According to Martin, the crop is an important clue to how birds evolved from the Mesozoic era, when the vast majority possessed teeth, to modern bird species that lack teeth.

“These animals that we’ve found that have crops and gizzards are also among the few Mesozoic birds that show a loss of teeth,” the KU researcher said. “So we think that development of a crop is related.”

Martin co-authored the paper with Xiaoting Zheng of Linyi University and the Tianya Museum of Nature, China; Zhonghe Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China; and KU colleagues David Burnham and Desui Miao.

The two species found to have crops go far back in the evolution of birds, showing birds to be specialized eaters from close to the beginning of their development.

“These birds in question are around 130 million years old,” Marin said. “This is very early in bird evolution, about 10 million years after what was thought to be the first bird, Archaeopteryx.”

Of the two species found to have crops, Martin said that one belonged to a long-extinct evolutionary side-branch, while the other was a relative of modern birds.
“Sapeornis was a pretty fair-sized bird, about the size of an ordinary chicken,” said Martin. “It belongs to a group of basal birds that are related to, but actually separate from, the line that leads to modern birds. The other bird that we have, Hongshanornis, is a very early example of the group to which all modern birds belong. It’s essentially a modern bird, but an awfully old one — one of the oldest modern birds.”

The finding is the latest accomplishment in the long relationship between paleontologists from KU and China, where government support and large quarrying efforts have led to a boom in fossil findings.

“We’ve been working in China in the Early Cretaceous since the beginning of research in that area,” Martin said. “KU has in fact been the central institution for much of the research that’s been done there, especially on fossil birds for the Early Cretaceous. This is the oldest avian fauna that we can study in detail, and it’s produced thousands of complete skeletons, often with feathers, stomach contents and internal organs.”

News Type:
Research News
Monday, May 2, 2011

Una Farrell, Ph.D., Yale University, will be joining the Invertebrate Paleontology this summer as collections manager. She was a Ph.D. student in Derek Briggs' lab at Yale and also interim collections manager in theD ivision of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. We are very excited that she will be joining us.

News Type:
Event News