China is a vast country endowed with diverse and spectacular fossils. New fossil discoveries in recent decades have shed light on many critical transitions in history of life. Professor Zhe-Xi Luo, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, spoke on August 6 at the Center in Beijing on the origins and the earliest evolution of mammals as revealed by many interesting fossils from the Jurassic of China, such as the tiny Hadrocodium and Juramaia (“Jurassic Mother”), which provided fresh scientific evidence on the origins of modern mammalian biological adaptations and the rise of modern mammal groups from the deep times of the Mesozoic – when the Earth was still dominated by dinosaurs.
Professor Luo first touched on the history of China-related paleontology at the University of Chicago, noting several alumni and professors from UChicago who worked with Chinese fossils from the early-to-mid-20th century through the present day. He then gave the audience an overview of how scientists have pieced together a history of mammalian evolution via the fossil record.
Luo, of the University of Chicago Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, is a paleontologist with research interest in the evolutionary biology of vertebrates. By studying mammal fossils of the Mesozoic—the age of dinosaurs—his work seeks to decipher the origins of mammalian biological adaptations, the evolutionary relationship of major lineages, their ecological diversification, and their developmental patterns. In his fieldwork to search for dinosaurs and fossil mammals, he has worked in many parts of the United States and China. His studies of early mammals have included the world’s earliestknown placentals and marsupials, and other ancient mammals that shed light on the earliest mammalian evolution and diversity. Luo has also studied the evolution of whales.
From 1996 to 2012, Luo was curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where he also served as associate director of science from 2004 to 2012. At the Carnegie Museum, he was the curator for the 1998 exhibit China’s Feathered Dinosaurs and a member of the museum team that built Carnegie’s permanent exhibit Dinosaurs in Their Time. He received his postdoctoral training at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, his PhD in 1989 in paleontology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BS in geology from Nanjing University of China in 1982.