Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Not so bird-brained… 3D X-rays piece together the evolution of flight from fossils

03.01.2011
3D X-ray scanning equipment is being used to help chart the evolution of flight in birds, by digitally reconstructing the size of bird brains using ancient fossils and modern bird skulls.

In a collaborative project between National Museums Scotland, the University of Abertay Dundee, and University of Lethbridge, Canada, researchers are using an incredibly sensitive CT (computerised tomography) scanner at Abertay to analyse whole skulls and fossilised fragments and recreate accurate 3D models of extinct birds’ brains.

Bird skulls grow to a fixed size before they leave the nest, with the brain then growing to almost completely fill the cavity space. This means that bird skulls can be used to accurately calculate the size and shape of the brain.

By working this out, the size of part of the brain called the flocculus can be established. This small part of the cerebellum is responsible for integrating visual and balance signals during flight, allowing birds to focus on objects moving in three dimensions while they are flying.

Dr Stig Walsh, project leader and Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeobiology at National Museums Scotland, said: “By charting the relative size of parts of the avian brain we believe we can discover how the flocculus has evolved to deal with different flying abilities, giving us new information about when birds first evolved the power of flight.”

The central research question is whether a larger flocculus is directly linked to a greater ability to process the visual and balance signals during flight. If proven, this could mark a major step forward in understanding bird evolution, and may shed light on whether some remarkably bird-like dinosaurs were truly dinosaurs or actually secondarily flightless birds.

He added: “This research has only been recently made possible through advances in X-ray micro-CT scanning. Unlike medical scanners, which take a series of slice images through an object that may be up to 1.5 millimetres apart, the 3D scanner at Abertay University can be accurate up to 6 microns.

“By using such powerful equipment and around 100 different modern species we’re beginning to understand much, much more about the evolution of flight.”

The project is also looking at some of the rarest fossils in the world – including the only two skulls of a flightless sea bird from the Cretaceous Period around 100 million years ago.

What makes the fossils so rare is they were preserved in three dimensions in soft clay, not flattened by the pressure of earth above them like most bird fossils.

Patsy Dello Sterpaio, joint project researcher at Abertay University, said: “This is a hugely exciting project, which benefits greatly from Abertay’s high-powered micro-CT scanner. We hope that this joint project can produce not only incredible images, but also helps answer some of these important unresolved questions about the evolution of flight.”

Dr Wilfred Otten, leader of the X-ray CT scanning facility at Abertay University, added: “The CT facilities at Abertay University are part of the SIMBIOS Centre for understanding complex ecological and environmental issues, which has an impressive team of experienced and successful experimentalists and modellers supporting its activities.

“Building from our expertise in environmental and soil science, we’re able to offer unrivalled expertise in capturing and quantifying interior structures of a wide range of materials.”

The computer analysis digitally reconstructs the shape and size of the skull, and creates a 3D ‘virtual’ brain model from the cavity inside the skull that housed the brain in life.

The project is also looking at flightless birds such as the dodo, to see whether the flocculus has become smaller with the loss of flight. The researchers believe that the brain power required for flight may have become reduced in such species.

The project is scheduled to run until early 2012.

Chris Wilson | alfa
Further information:
http://www.abertay.ac.uk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

nachricht New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>