Briggs featured in journal’s 350th anniversary

The world’s oldest scientific journal is celebrating its 350th anniversary with commentaries by leading scientists, including Yale paleontologist Derek Briggs.

Illustrations of (a) Opabinia and (b) Anomalocaris from Stephen J. Gould’s “Wonderful Life.” (© Marianne Collins, artist)

In two special issues posted March 6, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society asked a roster of scientists to revisit landmark studies in a variety of disciplines. Briggs, the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Yale, looked at the lasting impact of Harry Whittington’s 1975 monograph on Opabinia, the so-called “weird wonder” found in British Columbia’s Burgess Shale.

Opabinia was a stem-arthropod with five eyes on top of its head, a long body with wide swimming appendages, and a tail with overlapping flaps. Whittington’s paper was the first to note that some of the animals from the Burgess Shale were dramatically different than animals in modern oceans.

“It led to a resurgence of interest in the origins of biodiversity in the oceans and the relationships between the various animal groups then and now,” Briggs wrote in his commentary. “Research activity on the explosion of diversity during the Cambrian, and the forms fossilized in such exceptional preservations, has increased ever since.”

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