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Picture of the Day

What makes a mammal a mammal? Our spine, say scientists

Mammals are unique in many ways. We're warm-blooded and agile in comparison with our reptilian relatives. But a new study, funded by the National Science Foundation, suggests we're unique in one more way -- the makeup of our spines. The spine is basically like a series of beads on a string, with each bead representing a single bone -- a vertebra. But mammal backbones are different. The different sections or regions of the spine -- such as the neck, thorax and lower back -- take on very different shapes. They function separately and so can adapt to different ways of life, such as running, flying, digging and climbing. While mammal backbones are specialized, the regions that underlie them were believed to be ancient, dating back to the earliest land animals. Mammals made the most of the existing anatomical blueprint, or so scientists believed. However, the new study is challenging this idea by looking into the fossil record.

Visit Website | Image credit: Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology