Jakob Vinther’s personal webpage

My name is Jakob Vinther and I study palaeontology. I am currently studying for a Ph.D. at Yale University in the United States. I am originally from Denmark, I studied  at University of Copenhagen and did a masters before taking the big step and moved to the US.

I am primarily interested in the emergence and interrelationship of animals, the Metazoa. They radiated in a period between the Precambrian and Cambrian (600-500 million years ago) in popular terms “The Cambrian explosion”. The reason for such a striking name is the fact that it is seems that most animal groups evolved from a common ancestor in a short interval of time during this period.

I focus on the divergence of annelids and mollusks. I use both molecular biological methods on modern organisms and the fossil record to understand how these  two distinct invertebrate groups diversified in a markedly changing biosphere.

A large part of my work has been to make sense of palaeozoic problematica, like Halkieria and Machaeridians. See publications.

Another important part of my work is understanding preservation of animals, the taphonomy.

I have worked for a while now on the preservation of melanin. I observed that fossil squids have their ink sac preserved and that you can recognize the fossilized melanin under the scanning electron microscope. I therefore decided to look in other fossils that might retain melanin and the first place I looked were bird feathers. These proved to be entirely preserved by melanin inside melanosomes. This means that scientists might eventually be able to predict colour patterns of fossilized birds and dinosaurs. A paper have been published in Biology letters See publications.

Image: Image of fossil Cretaceous feather with preserved colour bands and an SEM image of the ligth and dark parts of the fossil. Right is a modern feather from a woodpecker and examples of melanosomes in a barbule from a dark feather and a barbule from a white feather without melanosomes.

See Other reports, Sciencentral, Economist, BBC, NYTimes, Telegraph, Sciencenews, New Scientist.

In my spare time I do rock climbing, scuba diving, yoga, swimming and running.

My fabourite quote: “There is no advantage in having the anus above your head” John S. Peel

Photo: Squashed veliger larvae of the gastropod Fusitrition, the little dots that look like eyes are in fact statocysts