We all know what happened last time Jurassic Park scientists tinkered with amber, right?
Nonetheless, a new partnership between Museums Victoria and Monash University will launch landmark research into newly-discovered plants, insects and spiders that date back to when dinosaurs walked the planet.
Fifty-four million years in the making, the project uses the first significant find of amber ever in Australia to examine the arthropods that were alive when Australia was still part of Gondwanaland.
Plants, animals and microorganisms were caught in amber, which is solidified sticky tree resin, and became fossilised in a form which allowed them to be perfectly preserved as when they died, despite being millions of years old. Some even retain traces of colour.
The project opens up a new window of research opportunities for Australia in amber palaeontology, which has previously been concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, especially Eastern Europe and many other countries.
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Museums Victoria entomologist Dr Ken Walker has called the find “absolutely astonishing”.
“You look down a microscope and you can see everything. So much better than looking at a fossil, although these are technically fossilised,” he said in a statement.
Dr Walker and Dr Rolf Schmidt from MV will work with Monash University Associate Professor Jeffrey Stilwell and his team, using large pieces of amber found by Professor Stilwell in Victoria and Tasmania.
The amber project is one of four new co-operative research projects between Museums Victoria and Monash University, through the Robert Blackwood Partnership.
The Partnership provides seed funding for projects that are likely to be developed into an Australian Research Council Linkage Project or will attract follow-on funding from another source and will be sustainable beyond the life of the project.