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Oct 26 "Physics Matters when imaging life in deep time" by Prof. Phil Manning

By Christine Marie-Therese Darve posted 09-20-2023 17:26


LIVE from UK, Prof. Phil Manning will transport us in time and space, to encounter dimosaurs ! 

Title: "Physics Matters when imaging life in deep time" by Prof. Phil Manning

When: Thursday October 26 at 4 pm CET

Register here

 Prof. Phillip Manning FGS, FRGS (Natural Historian, Author, Broadcaster and Explorer!)

Note the dinosaur bone in the channel sandstone above Prof. Manning's head....

As an appetizer to this colloquium, please watch the following short YouTube movie: “Accelerators to study the distant past”

You will be welcome to ask your questions, life to our guest of honor after his presentation.


Professor Phil Manning FRGS, FGS, is Chair of Natural History and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life at the University of Manchester (UK). His research focus is the evolution of life on Earth, which he and his team integrates with the application of new techniques and technologies borrowed from physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, and computational science. A large part of his research focuses on the use of synchrotron light to map and quantify the chemistry of samples from both extant and extinct organisms (from microbes to dinosaurs). The techniques that he and his team have developed allow them to reinterpret the preservation and identify original biochemistry of iconic extinct species such as Archaeopteryx. This research has led to significant developments that have had a sustained impact on users from multiple disciplines (from nuclear waste storage to developing advanced materials for the aviation industry). Phil has undertaken extensive fieldwork in North and South America, Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Australia, and New Zealand. He plays an active role in public outreach programmes, contributing to open-days, lectures, workshops, fieldwork, and more. Phil has written and presented multiple documentaries for television transmitted on National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, the BBC and many other international broadcasters. He has authored books both for children and popular science and is a regular contributor to public speaking programs around the world, promoting the public engagement of science. “Pass-it-on” is the simple mantra that has driven Phil through his career, always working to invest in future generations.


Fossils provide the physical evidence that narrates the story of Darwinian decent with modification that is the evolution of life on Earth. The fossil record charts the evolution of life beginning 3.8 billion years ago. Palaeontology seeks to reconstruct the relationships, biology, and behaviour of such long extinct life forms. Unravelling genomes and reconstructing molecular phylogenies can precisely measure the evolutionary distance between organisms in the tapestry of life, but the DNA that defines an organism is a fragile molecule, unable to resist even the gentlest ravages of geological time. The delicate double-helix of life is rarely recovered from samples older than 1 million years old, and then only in exceptional circumstances. The product of DNA, the proteome, might be the next logical focus as proteins are more robust than DNA and have the potential to leave tantalising evidence. However, like the genome, proteome preservation is also limited, albeit to slightly more respectful 10 million years old. Is there another way to unpick the biological codec concealed within fossil remains beyond this preservation ceiling? The chemistry that constructs biological materials can and does survive deep time, as is evidenced by the breakdown products of organic remains that drive the hydrocarbon-based economy. There is good reason that hydrocarbons are often called ‘fossil fuel’. It is therefore strange that there is such amazement at the survival of organic remains within ancient biological structures, otherwise known as fossils.  Recent work has shown there are clear biomarkers that can be identified, mapped, and quantified in both extant and extinct organisms (plants and animals). Such biomarkers are powerful tools when unlocking the puzzle of organismal biology, physiology, and the even specific biosynthetic pathways that built, regulated, and drove the evolution of life. The application of synchrotron-based imaging coupled with careful spectroscopy is allowing us to piece together the complex relationships between environmental overprint and surviving organismal chemistry. The once robust paradigm that fossils were merely shadows of past life is now looking fragile, not through the promise of DNA or intact proteins, but through the careful identification and separation of taphonomic overprint from the whiff of organismal chemistry preserved in deep time. The application of synchrotron-based imaging and spectroscopy is helping reveal hitherto unseen 'chemical ghosts' by shining some of the brightest light in the universe upon the evolution of life on Earth.

Useful links:

National Geographic YouTube

INCREDIBLE dinosaur leg fossil is discovered! 🦖 Dinosaurs: The Final Day with Attenborough - BBC