The Inside Story

Frogs represent 88% of living amphibians and have a skeletal shape unique among land-dwelling vertebrates. Although frogs seem to be specially adapted to jumping, they actually engage in a wide range of locomotion styles – walking and running, climbing, swimming, and burrowing, in addition to jumping and hopping.

Laura Porro, a post doc researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, part of the University of London, is an evolutionary biomechanist and palaeontologist investigating the link between form and function in living and extinct vertebrates. She studies the evolution of feeding and locomotion in a wide range of taxa – primarily fossil and living amphibians and reptiles, and early tetrapods – through medical imaging and 3D visualisation, biomechanical modelling and experiments.

First Laura uses micro CT (computed tomography) scanning at the University of Cambridge to capture skeletal shape. CT scans produce a series of digital slices of the specimen – essentially, a 3D X-ray. She uses specialised imaging software to digitally separate the skeleton from the surrounding tissues, producing 3D skeletal models.

CT scan showing skeleton of the Lemur Leaf Frog, Agalychnis lemur

On its own, CT scanning is a great tool to capture skeletal shape – however, the X-rays have a difficult time distinguishing different soft tissues from one another. Newly-developed staining methods now permit Laura to visualise and separate soft tissue masses – individual muscles, nerves and organs – allowing her to see all of the internal structures in place without any destructive dissections. Combined with 3D PDF technology, these digital dissections – including those of rare taxa – can be shared with students and researchers around the world.

Working with some of the rare frogs from Manchester Museum’s herpetology collection has provided Laura and her research group with access to some of the rarest and most unusual amphibians, such as the the bizarre Crowned Tree Frog, Anotheca spinosa.

Screenshot of 3D fully moveable model produced from a specimen of the Crowned Tree Frog Anotheca spinosa.

Anatomical information gained from staining and scanning these specimens will form the basis of unique biomechanical models used to simulate walking and jumping in these animals for Laura’s project. Our team will also receive highly detailed digital dissections of some of the rarest frog taxa in the world, all providing an extremely valuable resource for both teaching and new cutting edge research.

Digital dissection of the model organism Xenopus laevis

Combat behaviour in Male Anotheca spinosa

Follow Laura on Twitter

 

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