3D X-Rays Piece Together the Evolution of Flight

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SCIENCE DAILY – Three-dimensional 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.

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© Science Daily, 2011

Photograph by flickr user BotheredByBees




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