Professor John Hutchinson and colleagues have been awarded a EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie International Fellowship for Dr. Borja Esteve-Altava. The project is entitled Limb Networks - Network Analysis of Musculoskeletal Evolution and Modularity during the Fin-to Limb Transition
The fin-to-limb transition was a major milestone in the history of life that shaped the morphology and remarkable biodiversity of land vertebrates. A central question in vertebrate evolution is how the various anatomical parts of limbs evolved semi-autonomously (called modularity) while still growing and adapting in coordination (called integration). The main goal of this project is to unravel (i) the evolutionary changes in modularity of the musculoskeletal system that occurred during the evolution from fins to limbs and (ii) how these newly acquired modular organizations facilitated the evolution of different morphologies for the forelimb and hindlimb. To this end, we will evaluate the modularity of limbs and the strength of spatial integration among modules by using an innovative mathematical approach called anatomical network analysis. We will integrate (i) new data on fin/limb muscle anatomy in extant species, (ii) reconstruction of muscle attachments in extinct forms, and (iii) mathematical analysis to identify morphological modules and quantify their integration within an evolutionary context.
The results of this project have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of limb evolution during the fin-limb transition—science knows a lot about how the bones of fins transformed into those of limbs, but we will help resolve how the muscles and tendons also transformed across this major transition, opening up new opportunities to figure out how walking first evolved (linking form, function and development through evolution) or how the anatomical diversity of limb muscles in living vertebrates was generated.