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2012 Program for Scientists from Economically Developing Nations (SEDN) Award Winner

Dr. Zhikun Gai

My paleontological career began with my master study at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeontology, Academica Sinica, Beijing. I obtained commendation from the staff there and published a series of papers in the respected journal Vertebrata PalAsiatica, including an entirely novel phylogeny for the Galeaspida (Agnatha), surpassing in scope and scale phylogenies produced for any other group of extinct jawless vertebrates. This work was particularly welcome because of the importance of the extinct galeaspids for understanding the assembly of the vertebrate bodyplan and also because galeaspids are so poorly known in the West due to their endemic restriction to South-East Asia.

I continued my research with my PhD study in the University of Bristol supervised by Professor Philip C.J. Donoghue. My PhD research is aimed at resolving the anatomy of the head of galeaspids, in particular the gross anatomy of the galeaspid brain. This has entailed getting to grips with running a synchrotron beamline, in order to obtain tomographic scans of the fossils, as well as the complex computer software used to create virtual digital models from the tomographic data. The significance of my work is underlined by the fact that my first paper has been published in the world-leading journal Nature. I am interested in the evolution of vertebrate head and the origin of jawed vertebrates.

I am deeply honored to be winner of 2012 program for Scientist from an Economically Developing Nation Award. Thanks to all of you who made this possible.


Gai, Z. K., Donoghue, P. C. J., Zhu, M., Janvier, P. and Stampanoni, M. Fossil jawless fish from China foreshadows early jawed vertebrate anatomy. Nature 476: 324-327.