Professor Teams with Museum to Study Living Fossils

Posted: June 20, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jeremy Lasich

Patrick Gillevet, associate professor in the Institute for Biosciences, Bioinformatics, and Biotechnology, joined forces with two research teams from the National Museum of Natural History and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum last month to search for living fossils at the bottom of the ocean in the Bahamas.

Living fossils are animal species that were considered extinct and only known through fossil record, but then found to be alive today. The four-man crew used a small submarine to collect numerous samples, primarily of slitsnails and other marine gastropods, in 800 to 2,500 feet of water.

DNA from the samples, along with water and sediment samples, will help reveal patterns of molecular evolution. Gillevet hopes the research will answer questions such as “How is it that these animals have survived for hundreds of millions of years with little significant physical change?” and “If they have changed over time, in what ways, and how similar and different are they from other living gastropods?”

“The slitsnail expedition was an unqualified success for me,” says Gillevet. “I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and the opportunity to travel into the inner space of mother earth. Even for a scuba instructor like myself, it was a fascinating voyage into an unfamiliar realm from which new evidence may turn some familiar paradigms of biology upside down.”

The team will continue its expedition next fall when researchers dive into the Gulf of Mexico to study the effects coral reef has on the planet.

For more information on the expedition, contact Gillevet at x31057 or visit the Smithsonian website.

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