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Presentation of the 2010 Charles Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society to Philip C. J. Donoghue.
Swedish Museum of Natural History, Department of Paleobiology.
2011 (English)In: Journal of Paleontology, ISSN 0022-3360, E-ISSN 1937-2337, Journal of Paleontology, Vol. 85, no 5, 1015- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

LADIES AND gentlemen, friends and colleagues, the winner of the 2010 Charles Schuchert Award is Professor Philip Donoghue of the University of Bristol. In the natural progression of our personal lives, the transition from young snot to old fart is so gradual that one tends not to recognize it, least of all in oneself. Most of us— those further along in their careers— have passed through the stage of young, promising paleontologist to become middleaged promising paleontologists. Not so Phil Donoghue. I first met him when he was a graduate student at the University of Leicester. We got into a discussion about the nature of conodonts and certain pet ideas of mine that I had published. Phil did not agree with me so he went down in my book as a young snot. Soon thereafter, he published a ground-breaking, paradigm-changing paper, together with Peter Forey and Dick Aldridge, on the phylogenetic position of conodonts. Now, I realized that it was I who was the old fart. Phil had demonstrated that he had skipped the young-and-promising stage. He was, and is, young and delivering. Most people who start working on conodonts tend to remain with them. There is something about that mouth apparatus and the way in which it grabs hold of you. But Phil quickly tore himself loose from its grip. He quickly demonstrated an unquenchable zeal in attacking central issues in evolutionary paleontology, such as the origin of microstructures in teeth, the origin of teeth in jaws, the origin of jaws in vertebrates, the origin of vertebrates among animals, the origin of animals in the biosphere, and so on. I fear he will not stop until he has solved the question of the origin of life, the universe, and everything else. The breadth of questions he has already addressed is one aspect of Phil’s work. The diversity of tools he brings to bear on them is another. There is a lot of grinding powder under his fingernails, and lots of devo in his evo. After a sabbatical at the University of Bath, where he seems to have broken every rule of the Sabbath, he came out as a full-fledged molecular biologist, with RNA libraries at his fingertips. He is at the forefront in marrying data from living organisms with that from fossil taxa in phylogenetic analyses. Recently, he came out in defense of the paraphyletic stem group with arguments such that I have high hopes for his post-Schuchert development. Yes, paraphyletic groups are much more interesting than the monophyletic dead-ends called clades, although Phil of course refuses to call them groups. When Phil and some colleagues published a paper in Nature on the Cambrian fossil embryo Markuelia (again showing me wrong on a central issue), it caught the eye of Marco Stampanoni, a physicist who works at the Swiss Light Source (SLS) synchrotron near Zu¨ rich, in Switzerland. Marco had been developing methods of X-ray microtomography, using SLS beamlines. He contacted Phil with a proposal to collaborate, and Phil contacted me. Now, our collaboration based on this revolutionary technique, with Phil at the forefront, has opened our eyes to a huge amount of information to which we did not have access only a few years ago. Taphonomy is like the weather, people speak about it, but few do anything about it. But if you neglect it, you are in deep peril. Phil is much more concerned about taphonomy than most colleagues I know, and he does something about it. He started a project with embryologist Rudy Raff to determine how bacteria go about decomposing embryos in ways such that they are upgraded to exquisite fossils. He is engaging many colleagues, post-docs and students in the investigation of these processes and their end results. As a result, we are gaining insight into how bacteria can invade, devour and faithfully replicate intracellular features, and how different populations of bacteria play different roles in the process. An intriguing observation has emerged from Phil’s taphonomic work with Mark Purnell. Taphonomic degradation tends to bring about a stemward slippage of taxa in their apparent phylogenetic relationships, on account of sequential disappearance of preserved apomorphies. The general significance of this observation has still to be tested, but its potential importance for the phylogenetic analysis of fossils is obvious. Phil is leading an amazingly diverse and successful program in paleontology at the University of Bristol, permeated by his holistic approach and addressing everything from organismbased paleontology to molecular biology. Molecular, organismic, orgiastic paleontology—that’s the realm of Phil Donoghue. Mr. President, please hand the Schuchert Award for 2010 over to Phil. He thoroughly deserves it.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 85, no 5, 1015- p.
National Category
Evolutionary Biology Geology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:nrm:diva-606OAI: oai:DiVA.org:nrm-606DiVA: diva2:765268
Available from: 2014-11-21 Created: 2014-08-29 Last updated: 2014-11-26Bibliographically approved

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