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Tag: John Cunningham

John is a palaeontologist in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, UK. His recent research has involved trying to understand the controversial embryo-like fossils from the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation of China. In particular, he has used a range of techniques to study how decay and mineralization have affected the organisms after death. This has helped palaeontologists to gain a better understanding of the fossils’ original biological structure and their position in the tree of life. For John’s PhD at the University of Liverpool, UK, he studied the evolution of larval strategies in Cretaceous sea urchins. Before that, he earned a BSc in geology at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and an MSc in palaeobiology at the University of Bristol.

Contact Details:

Dr. John Cunningham, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1RJ, United Kingdom.

Fossil Focus: Animal embryos

Fossil Focus
by John Cunningham*1 Introduction: Animal embryos are small (typically less than 1 millimetre across), soft and squidgy, so it was traditionally considered impossible for them to be preserved in the fossil record. However, over the past 15 years or so a series of remarkable discoveries have shown that embryos can indeed be fossilized under exceptional circumstances. The microscopic fossils that have been identified as embryos are almost exclusively from the Ediacaran and Cambrian periods, around 635 million to 488 million years ago. This spans the period of time when the major groups of animals are thought to have first appeared, so these fossils allow palaeontologists to study the embryology of some of the earliest animals, shedding light on the evolution of development. The first fo