Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

James Pinto L&S Biological Sciences

Osteohistology of Hyperelongate Neural Spines Across Amniotes

Hyperelongate neural spines (HENSs), which often form a “sailback” along the axial column, have arisen independently in amniotes at least 12 times, in distantly related groups of animals over 100s of millions years. Suggestions for the functions of HENSs include that they served as thermoregulators, as display organs, and/or as biomechanical support. Osteohistology (internal bone microstructure) can be informative for comparing these hypotheses of HENS function, particularly using living taxa with HENSs, like species of lizards and bovids, as a framework for the relationship between structure and function in extinct species. This project will describe osteohistology of thin sections of neural spines from basilisks, bison, dinosaurs, and stem-mammals, a group of Triassic reptiles known as ctenosauriscids. By analyzing finer details in the internal structures of different HENSs, like presence of Sharpey’s fibers, position of growth lamellae, orientation and location of vascular canals, and torsional rigidity, which indicate musculature connections, growth rate, vascularity, and structural integrity, respectively, the project will assess functional and structural relationships in repeated convergent evolutions of “sailbacks”, a currently poorly understood evolutionary adaptation. 

Message To Sponsor

Thank you so much for your support of my research! This is a project that I'm extremely excited to be able to work on, both because I think the questions about macroevolution it addresses are fascinating ones, and because it will give me a chance to gain experience in multiple methods of analysis and data gathering. This will be an amazing opportunity to advance my skills as a researcher, and to contribute new evidence to my scientific field.
Major: Integrative Biology and Geology
Mentor: Charles Marshall
Sponsor: Pergo Fund
Back to Listings
Back to Donor Reports