SICB Division of Comparative Biomechanics (DCB)

DCB Researchers Database Entry

Brian Hall

Skeletal Development and Evolution
The objective of our programme of research is to understand the development and evolution of vertebrate skeletal tissues, especially bone and cartilage. Bone is only found in vertebrates, but cartilage is found in several major invertebrate taxa. The focus of our work has been on the dermal (exo) skeleton, especially the head (craniofacial) skeleton, which arises from neural crest cells. We integrate developmental biology (comparative and experimental studies using embryos of extant taxa - frogs, fish, birds and reptiles), palaeontology (analysis of the skeleton, especially the dermal skeleton, in extinct taxa -reptilian and fish fossils), synthesis and integration (essays, reviews, chapters, columns, books) to understand how skeletal tissues develop and evolved. Our approach is:

(i) Mechanistic - how do skeletal cells differentiate, how do cells and tissues interact during development, how have developmental mechanisms changed through evolution to modify skeletal tissues and organs.

(ii) Comparative across four of the five Classes of vertebrates.

(iii) Integrative of molecular, cell, tissue, organ and organismal levels of organization and of the processes that emerge at, and are characteristic of, each level.

(iv) Integrative and interdisciplinary across the disciplines of cell, developmental and evolutionary biology, and palaeontology; and

(v) set in an evolutionary context -the evolution of developmental processes and how modifications of development brings about evolutionary change (evo-devo), both how old structures are modified (variation) and how new feature arise.

While integrated and integrative, the research programme has a number of subcomponents. These reflect (i) the various approaches to be taken; (ii) the multidisciplinary background of individuals in the laboratory (developmental, evolutionary, ichthyology, systematics, genetics and palaeontology are currently represented); (iii) the desirability of allowing those trained to take away their topic as their own, while being trained in an environment in which integration and transfer of approaches from other fields is encouraged through regular discussion, and especially, through the production of thrice-yearly columns for the Newsletter of the Palaeontology Association.