Yale Peabody Museum Summer Internships

Resurrecting ancient forms:

Using fossils and molecular developmental biology to discover the mechanisms behind the dinosaur-bird transition

Advisors: Prof. Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, João Botelho and Daniel Smith

Bhullar Lab, Geology & Geophysics / Vertebrate Paleontology / Vertebrate Zoology


Length: 8 weeks in the summer


Project Description:

Our lab focuses on major transitions in vertebrate evolution. One prominent area of investigation is the transformation from non-avian dinosaurs to birds. This transformation involved numerous alterations related to the origin of flight, the reduction of the tail, and the dramatic transformation of the head. Currently we are most interested in the bird beak and the bird brain, both of which are dramatically larger, differently shaped, and differently proportioned when compared to their nonavian antecedents. Moreover, the brain holds a peculiar primacy in the development of the head as a whole since it is the first defined structure to form in the embryonic head and may in fact be responsible for the developmental patterning of much of the skull and other cranial tissues. We are seeking interns to participate in this research by performing self-contained independent projects on either the fossil/morphological or the molecular developmental side, mentored by a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher in addition to Professor Bhullar. Student interns will further have the opportunity to join a Yale Peabody expedition in the field to discover new Triassic fossils at the beginning of the radiation of the dinosaur lineage during the beginning of the summer.


Students who choose to work on the fossil/anatomical aspects of the project  will use cutting-edge 3D rendering programs to digitally dissect the skull of a pivotal transitional form in the dinosaur-bird transition and will use our existing databases of anatomy to infer the presence of soft tissue like brain and muscle, as well as some aspects of development. During time in the lab, these students will also be exposed to molecular developmental biology techniques.  Students who choose to work primarily on the molecular developmental aspects of the project will examine gene expression in the developing brains and skull roofs of alligators (alligators and crocodiles are the closest living relatives to birds) and chickens and will search for meaningful genetic differences that explain the greatly enlarged brains of birds. They will meanwhile gain experience in comparative anatomy and morphology. There are numerous opportunities for new observations and discoveries. It is expected that the projects will culminate in one or more papers on which the students will be authors. Previous work by the lab on this topic has been reported in online, radio, and print news sources like NPR, BBC, and The New York Times.


Stipend: $3000


CLICK HERE to apply!