Posts Tagged ‘publication’

Party time! Let the media onslaught begin! We’ve published a paper in Nature on the limb motions of Ichthyostega (and by implication, some other stem tetrapods). Since we did use some crocodile specimens from Freezersaurus (see below) in this study, I figured WIJF could cover it to help celebrate this auspicious event. Briefly. Particularly since we already did a quasi-blog on it, which is here:


and some juicy fossily images at:


However I want to feature our rockin’ cool animations we did for the paper, to squeeze every last possible drop of science communicationy goodness out of them. So here they are in all their digital glory. Huge credit to Dr. Stephanie Pierce, the brilliant, hardworking postdoc who spearheaded the work including these videos! Dr. Jenny Clack is our coauthor on this study and the sage of Ichthyostega and its relatives- her website is here. Also, a big hurrah for our goddess of artsy science, Julia Molnar, who helped with the videos and other images. Enjoy!

The computer model

The forelimb model

The hindlimb model

We used some of my Nile crocodile collection to do a validation analysis of our joint range of motion (ROM) methods, detailed in the Supplementary info of the paper, which I encourage anyone interested to read since it has loads more interesting stuff and cool pics. We found that a bone-based ROM will always give you a greater ROM than an intact fleshy limb-based ROM. In other words, muscles and ligaments (and articular cartilage, etc.). have a net effect of reducing how far a joint can move. This is not shocking but few studies have ever truly quantitatively checked this with empirical data from whole animals. It is an important consideration for all vert paleo types. Here is a pic of one of the crocodiles from the study, with (A) and without muscles (B; ligaments only):

I’ll close with Julia Molnar’s jaw-droppingly awesome flesh reconstruction from our model. Why Nature wouldn’t use this as a cover pic, I’ll never understand, but I LOVE it! When I first saw it enter my email inbox and then opened it to behold its glory, my squeal of geeky joy was deafening.

(edit: Aha! Fellow Berkeley alum Nick Pyenson’s group made the Nature cover, for their kickass study of rorqual whale anatomy, including a “new” organ! Well, we don’t feel so bad then. Great science– and a win for anatomy!!!)

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In case you missed the story about this paper released just before Xmas, here are some links to stories about “From flat foot to fat foot: Structure, ontogeny, function and evolution of elephant “sixth toes,” in Science, 2011:

1. The paper (free download from my publications list; nice policy, Science!)

2. Our website about the paper (more imagery goodness!)

3. Ed Yong’s first (Nature News) and second (more detailed blog) article

4. BBC News’s story

5. Reuters TV‘s excellent video

6. Science Now/Wired’s story

7. Daily Mail‘s story (not a daily fail, in this case)

Clarification: it’s not a real sixth toe in elephants; it’s a false, toe-like structure (“predigit”) made from other tissue. That confusion seeped into some media stories. But this whole story ties into the thorny question of what a digit (finger/toe) is and how we can tell (e.g., notions of homology). Regardless, the elephant predigits are present in all four feet, and are super duper cool!

Most importantly for this blog, that research relied, and still relies, on our fabulous freezers to keep the elephant “toes” in snuggly cold conditions until we wanted to study them.

The research is continuing- I’ll post more about that later. We’ve been doing lots more histology to explore the complex ways that these predigits are formed, and also studying how they function (ex vivo) in more 3D detail than before (with new comparisons to rhino feet). Also, a new paper of ours will come out in J Experimental Biology very soon. It elaborates on how whole elephant feet function, across ontogeny, using in vivo pressure patterns.

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