Affordable Access

Publisher Website

New light shed on the early evolution of limb-bone growth plate and bone marrow.

  • Estefa, Jordi1
  • Tafforeau, Paul2
  • Clement, Alice M3
  • Klembara, Jozef4
  • Niedźwiedzki, Grzegorz1
  • Berruyer, Camille2
  • Sanchez, Sophie1, 2
  • 1 Department of Organismal Biology, Evolution and Development, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. , (Sweden)
  • 2 European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Grenoble, France. , (France)
  • 3 Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering, Adelaide, Australia. , (Australia)
  • 4 Comenius University in Bratislava, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Ecology, Bratislava, Slovakia. , (Slovakia)
Published Article
"eLife Sciences Organisation, Ltd."
Publication Date
Mar 02, 2021
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.51581
PMID: 33648627


For many aquatic creatures, the red blood cells that rush through their bodies are created in organs such as the liver or the kidney. In most land vertebrates however, blood-cell production occurs in the bone marrow. There, the process is shielded from the ultraviolet light or starker temperature changes experienced out of the water. It is possible that this difference evolved long before the first animal with a backbone crawled out of the aquatic environment and faced new, harsher conditions: yet very little fossil evidence exists to support this idea. A definitive answer demands a close examination of fossils from the water-to-land transition including lobe-finned fish and early limbed vertebrates. To support the production of red blood cells, their fin and limb bones would have needed an internal cavity that can house a specific niche that opens onto a complex network of blood vessels. To investigate this question, Estefa et al. harnessed the powerful x-ray beam produced by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and imaged the fin and limb bones from fossil lobe-finned fish and early limbed vertebrates. The resulting three-dimensional structures revealed spongy long bones with closed internal cavities where the bone marrow cells were probably entrapped. These could not have housed the blood vessels needed to create an environment that produces red blood cells. In fact, the earliest four-legged land animals Estefa et al. found with an open marrow cavity lived 60 million years after vertebrates had first emerged from the aquatic environment, suggesting that blood cells only began to be created in bone marrow after the water-to-land transition. Future work could help to pinpoint exactly when the change in blood cell production occurred, helping researchers to identify the environmental and biological factors that drove this change.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times