Research Fellows Directory
Dr Victoria McCoy
University of Leicester
My current research involves (1) investigating the processes of soft tissue fossilization to identify biases and controls -- allowing us to better interpret exceptional fossil sites -- through interdisciplinary approach involving fieldwork, specimen analysis (using a variety of techniques including analysis of isotopes, CT scanning, scanning electron microscopy, and synchrotron imaging), statistical data analysis, and actualistic taphonomic experiments, and (2) using detailed morphological information from soft bodied fossils to understand ancient organisms' ecological positions using taphonomic studies, modern biological proxies, and quantitative analytical methods.
For the Newton International Fellowship, I am focusing on soft tissue fossils preserved in amber. Organisms entombed in amber are famous for their perfect, life-like appearance. However, this degree of preservation is only found at a small subset of amber sites; the rest have cuticular preservation only, or no fossils whatsoever. Moreover, the exceptional morphological fidelity in the best-preserved amber fossils has been taken to mean that they will contain similarly well-preserved biomolecules, although attempts to extract biomolecules from amber inclusions have been partially successful at best. The goal of this project is to determine the limits of amber entombment on preservation by assessing the degradation of tissues and biomolecules in controlled laboratory experiments mimicking preservation in amber. The results of these experiments will suggest which amber fossil sites (based on variations in amber chemistry and fossil assemblage) are most likely to have information-dense fossils with the highest fidelity of tissue and biomolecule preservation.