Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Australian ghost sharks’ fused necks help clarify how human necks developed

OCTOBER 23, 2015

by Susanna Pilny

An unusual source offers insight into human health problems, as researchers from Monash University used the naturally fused neck vertebrae of sharks to study neck development gone awry in humans.

As published in PLOS ONE, the study may bring new light to the development or disorders such as Klippel-Feil syndrome, in which the vertebrae of the neck harden together. However, in other animals, like sharks and rays, a neck encased in bone is the norm. And so the team studied the development of fused necks in elephant sharks (otherwise known as Australian ghost shark).

“In some animal species, part of the animal’s body mimics what we see in a human disease. These species are known as ‘evolutionary mutants,’ and analyzing them provides unprecedented access to information in a healthy individual,” said lead researcher Catherine Boisvert of Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute in a Futurity statement.

“We are gaining a better understanding on how these morphologies develop and what developmental pathways (genes and their networks) are involved in producing them. This knowledge may help us better understand the disease in humans.”

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