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Paula Mikkelsen took a break from her work on publications a few weeks ago and put on her "biologist" hat when she received 8 live adult Pismo Clams (Tivela stultorum) from California. Each clam was about 6 inches long and weighed about a pound. A shallow-water commercial species, Pismo Clams were hunted to near-extinction in California and are now commercially protected. Despite their size and the fact that they have been harvested for food for decades if not hundreds of years, their anatomy has never been fully described. Paula did preliminary dissections, then preserved the specimens 5 different ways for the BivAToL NSF project ( She and her colleagues in the BivAToL grant will use the specimens for their morphological/molecular analysis and will also write a paper specifically on the anatomy of this species. The specimens were provided by colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Game, who are monitoring Pismo Clam populations at and around Pismo Beach, which was named for the clams.

Dr. Paula Mikkelsen is PRI's Associate Director for Science and Director of Publications.

The Assembling the Tree of Life: Bivalvia project (BivAToL) is a part of the Assembling the Tree of Life initiative, a large research effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Its goal is to reconstruct the evolutionary origins of all living things.

The evolution of life is a central unifying principle of modern science, and it is integrally connected to much of our understanding of how Earth systems work and evolve. PRI's world-class collections of fossils help tell the story of the evolution of the Earth, and our programming helps educators, students, and the public understand what evolution is and how scientists study it.

What's New?

Fossil Finders Logo
Fossil Finders in Asia
In November, Cornell Professor Barbara Crawford gave a keynote address and workshop at the National Institute of Education in Singapore.  Her talk (attended by 700 teachers and researchers from 30 countries ) focused on promising ways to support teachers and children in developing in-depth understandings of science, of using essential features of scientific inquiry, and the use of evidence by scientists and aspects of teaching evolution. The presentation featured video and pictures of classrooms in the USA, in which children and teachers identified and measured fossils from the Devonian, drawing inferences about past environments.  The videotaped classrooms are part of the National Science Foundation Fossil Finders project in which Rob Ross and Warren Allmon are Co-PIS. Ms. Trisha Smrecak from PRI serves as the paleontologist-in-residence for the Fossil Finders project. During the Singapore workshop 80 teachers from Asia, Europe, and Australia studied the fossils in shale samples that Crawford carried with her from Ithaca. Teachers expressed a great deal of interest in the inquiry activities and inquired into how their classrooms in Asia might possibly become part of the Fossil Finders project in the future.

Announcing Darwin Days 2010
We would like to invite you to celebrate Charles Darwin’s Birthday (February 12) during our weeklong celebration of his work and his ideas. This year we have themed our events around biodiversity as 2010 was declared the International Year of Biodiversity by the General Assembly of the United Nations. We'll be hosting a series of panel discussions, lectures, a day of family fun, and an evening birthday party. Check out our schedule below!

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, February 9
PANEL DISCUSSION: “Evolution and Biodiversity on Land”
at 5 pm in CU’s G10 Biotech

Wednesday, February 10
PANEL DISCUSSION: “Evolution and Biodiversity in the Sea”
at 5 pm in CU’s G10 Biotech

Thursday, February 11
LECTURE: "Saving all the Pieces: Evolutionary Benchmarks for Conservation" with Dr. Harry Greene, Cornell University, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
at 5 p.m. in CU’s Lewis Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall

Friday, February 12
LECTURE: “Constructing Biodiversity: From Darwin to the Cambrian Explosion” with Dr. Douglas Erwin, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
at 5 pm in CU’s Lewis Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall

RECEPTION: A lively birthday gathering with appetizers, desserts and wine featuring a sneak peek of our upcoming exhibit.  7 pm to 9 pm at the Museum of the Earth. Tickets $10. Call 607.273.6623 x11 to purchase or visit us at any of the other Darwin Days events.

Saturday, February 13
FAMILY DAY: Darwin Family Day from 11 am to 3 pm at the Museum of the Earth. Take a voyage through the Museum with fun crafts, experiments, and presentations along the way! Included with Museum admission. Free for members.

LECTURE: “The Arms Race at a Snail's Pace: Coevolution between Predator and Prey in the Fossil Record” with Dr. Greg Dietl, Director of Collections,PRI at noon in the Museum of the Earth’s classroom. Included with Museum admission. Free for members.

Learn more about Darwin Days at

Evolution in the News

Darwin in Film
Creation, the film on Darwin’s life starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, will premier in the US on January 22, 2010. The film had difficulties finding a US distributor, but was finally picked up in September 2009 by Newmarket. So if you’ll be in Boston, LA, NYC, Washington DC, or San Francisco, consider seeing it! Read an interesting article from CBS Sunday Morning on the film here.

"Fossil tracks push back the invasion of land by 18 million years"
Jan. 6, 2010 - Not Exactly Rocket Science
New fossil tracks discovered in Poland suggest that tetrapods were walking on land about 386 million years ago, 18 million years before previously thought. Learn more here.

"Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA "

Jan. 11, 2010 - The New York Times
Virus remnants in animal genomes help scientists trace evolutionary relationships of both animals and the viruses themselves, and may play a part in some major evolutionary innovations. Learn more here.

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