Thursday 6 th of June 2019 at 7.00pm
Mawson Lecture Theatre
Department of Geology
University of Adelaide
Ralph Tate Memorial Lecture
“How ancient fishes built the human body plan- exciting fossil discoveries from Australia and Antarctica”
Prof John Long. Flinders University
Palaeontology is the study of ancient life, and much of our knowledge in this field derives from studying fossil remains. Whereas once we studied fossils prepared using chisels and drills, today we digitally explore them down to cellular level using synchrotrons, neutron beams and micro-CT scanners. This new technology, combined with spectacularly well-preserved 3D fossils from Australia, allows us to intimately unravel the earliest stages of our evolution from fishes to the first land animals, tetrapods. Over the past 50 years, new specimens of 3D Devonian fishes collected from the Gogo sites in north Western Australia, and the Taemas sites in southern NSW, plus the Aztec Siltstone in Antarctica have provided the high-quality specimens suitable for high-tech X-ray tomography. The earliest jawed fishes called placoderms, thought to be very primitive, actually had a very advanced structure. Rather than being an evolutionary ‘dead-end’, they gave us the basic framework for our human body plan, bestowing a legacy passed own to us of many anatomical innovations, like paired akull bones, jaws, teeth, backbones and hind limbs, as well as originating interesting behaviours like reproduction using copulation. The origin of the bony fishes (Osteichthyans) is an exciting frontier area of research as new complete specimens coming from China and NSW reveal the beginning of this important radiation. Our research into the evolution of lobe-finned fishes shows that even before they left the water and moved onto the land, as amphibians ,they had developed the main features found in land animals, arms and legs and fingers and toes. A fresh new perspective on our evolution is that most of the human body plan (about 80%) was actually built by fishes through innovative adding of more complex structures, and the rest of our evolution from the appearance of land animals to us is largely fine tuning of the existing structures found in fishes..
John Long graduated with PhD from Monash University in 1984, and spent 6 years as a postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology at universities in Canberra, Perth (as A QEII fellow) and Tasmania before being appointed at the Western Australian Museum in 1989 as Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology. In 2004 John returned to Melbourne as the new Head of Sciences for Museum Victoria, and in 2009 was appointed as Vice President, Research and Collections, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. In December 2012 he became Strategic Professor in Palaeontology at Flinders University, Adelaide.
John’s research focuses on the early evolution of vertebrates (fishes) as applied to how the human body plan was assembled. He has published over 320 scientific papers and general science articles (9 Nature/Science papers, and 26 books (mostly non-fiction plus 3 novels). He has named more than 80 new species of prehistoric creatures from fishes to dinosaurs. His recent papers contributed to solving some big questions in palaeontology- how fish evolved into the first land animals, and how complex sex evolved in vertebrates. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Long
2001 John won the prestigious Eureka Prize for the Public Promotion of Science. In 2003 he was awarded the Riversleigh Society Medal for promoting understanding of Australia’s prehistoric past. In 2006 his book “The Big Picture Book, won 2 national awards, and was short-listed for 2 other major childrens’s literary awards.
2008 John won the Australasian Science Prize for his discovery of the world’s oldest vertebrate embryos..
2011 he won the Royal Society of Victoria’s medal for research
2014 won the Verco medal for research from the Royal Society of South Australia.
2016 part of the TEPO (Trace Elements in Past Oceans) team that won the Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Research
Members and visitors are warmly invited to attend. We are obliged for security reasons to keep the front door of the building locked. Please note that latecomers will not be admitted after 7.00 pm, in order not to interrupt the lecture. Everyone is invited to supper following the lecture