Geology professor talks dinosaur birds and bees

By Mari Mejia

Kristi Curry Rogers was recently offered a full-time position as an assistant professor split between the Geology and Biology departments. Her research focuses on dinosaur growth and evolution; she recently published findings that suggest adolescent female dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus rex, started reproducing before they reached full maturity. We sat down with the Geology Department’s newest full-time professor to learn more about this exciting research. The Mac Weekly: Could you describe the research you did this past summer?

Kristy Curry Rogers: My colleagues and I published a paper in the summer about oviraptors, dinosaurs found sitting on nests of eggs in China and Mongolia. When we did cross sections of the specimens, looking at the patterns of rings and vascular canals in their bones, we saw some of them were still growing.

TMW: Could you briefly describe the new findings on dinosaurs being able to reproduce during their teen years?

KCR: While working on [our project] some of our colleagues were working on the same questions but focusing on a particular kind of bone called Medullar bone, which is present in birds that are ovulating. They found this type of bone in T-Rex, Tenanosaurus and Allosaurus when they were all relatively young, about 0-15 years of age.

TMW: How does this finding relate to your research?

KCR: It’s using a different line of evidence that basically proves that plant eating, meat eating and bird-like dinosaurs like oviraptor all have an early onset of sexual maturity.

TMW: What was the evolutionary purpose for dinosaurs reaching sexual maturity during their teenage years?

KCR: It gives them a lot more time to reproduce and add more genes to the gene pool.

TMW: Since dinosaurs had sex during their teens, did they also have mood swings and self-identity crises?

KCR: I would say that since there aren’t signs of teen angst issues in birds and crocodiles there probably weren’t in dinos, but it’s almost a certainty that dinosaurs had growing pains like teenagers do.

TMW: What other type of research do you do in your field of study?

KCR: [I specialize in] bones and histology, which is the study of tissue. Bones are cool because they’re made of hard and soft parts, and the hard parts are what gets fossilized. [In addition I focus on] the transition between birds and dinosaurs, but I’m also studying a group of long-neck dinosaurs called Titanosaurs.

TMW: How long have you been teaching at Macalester, and why do you enjoy teaching here?

KCR: I’ve been teaching here for six years and I’ll be teaching full time next year in the biology and geology departments. I love Mac students because they demonstrate a creativity, interest and intellectual curiosity that makes it fun for the professor and keeps me passionate about what I’m doing. Plus I really enjoy hearing what students think about science and how dinosaurs affect their lives.

TMW: What was your reaction to being offered a full-time position for next year?

KCR: I was thrilled because I love teaching here, and a big part I look forward to is working with students.

TMW: Why is it important to study dinosaurs, why should people care?

KCR: Well there’s two main reasons. One is that any insight we gain about what happened gives us insight into our place in the history of the earth. Two is that people love dinosaurs and are fascinated by the thrill of discovery. There’s something in the news every day, and it demonstrates to the public the importance and reality of evolution. [Through] hypothesis and the rejection of ideas, it’s educating the public about how science operates.