The inside story of cells and complex life topic of public lecture

May 18th, 2012

Kelly Foss

The inside story of cells and complex life topic of public lecture

Dr. Martin Brasier, an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, will present a public lecture on the inside story of cells and complex life.

Currently a professor of palaeobiology at Oxford University, Dr. Brasier will talk about a remarkable episode in the history of life that took place between two and one billion years ago.

“Until that time, life on Earth had been bacterial,” he explained. “But something then enabled the evolution of complex eukaryote cells, including algae, animals and ourselves. Bacteria and cells became hooked together to form symbiotic teams. This was evolution by networking, and it played a crucial role in the evolution of the biosphere.

“For without it, no complex life could have evolved. So why did this extreme networking happen? And why only then?”

Martin Brasier, well known for his work on early life, will explore these questions - the theme of his latest book Secret Chambers.

His talk will take listeners on a journey across coral reefs and mangroves of the Caribbean as he decodes fossils deep inside the Sphinx in Egypt and then travel to explore the latest evidence on ancient fossils along the shores of Lake Superior, and the Australian outback.

Dr Brasier will celebrate the insights of key scientists on early cellular life, including Lynn Margulis, Hans Hofmann, and Elso Barghoorn as piece-by-piece, clues will be gathered about the conditions that enabled this unique turning point for life on Earth. He’ll conclude by exploring the lessons that symbiosis can teach about ecosystems and their responses to stress in coming decades.

Dr. Brasier’s duties have included chairman of the Faculty of Earth Sciences at Oxford, chairman of the Subcomission on Cambrian Stratigraphy (overseeing the formal definition of the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary on the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland), voting membership of the Neoproterozoic Subcommission, and membership of National Science Foundation and NASA panels.

He is best known for his work on the earliest life and the unique lessons now being learned from high resolution studies of the early fossil record. Recent papers include laser mapping of the Ediacara biota, complex life on land at 1 billion, 3.4 billion year old cellular structures, a detailed field (and critical laboratory) guide to the 3.46 billion Apex chert ‘microfossils’, and a pumice hypothesis for the origins of life.

His recent book Darwin’s Lost World, was produced by Oxford University Press for the Darwin centenary in 2009.

Dr. Brasier’s lecture will take place 7 p.m. May 28th on the St. John’s campus in the S.J. Carew (Engineering) building, room EN-2006.