It’s time to go spanning the globe for anatomy news and notes:
We are sure you’re familiar with the syrinx. It’s the vocal organ for birds. It’s located in the base of a bird’s trachea. The syrinx allows birds to produce sounds without the vocal folds (cords) of mammals. Birds have a larynx but, unlike mammals, a bird larynx does not vocalize.
All this is offered as background to news from the world of dinosaur vocalization.
What did dinosaurs sound like? If you think Jurassic Park told us all we need to know, think again!
A research team from the Royal BC Museum in Victoria (Canada), recently found the fossilized larynx of a dinosaur. Specifically, an ankylosaur. The ankylosaurs were squat, spiky dinosaurs. They were plant-eaters.
Cast of an ankylosaur head. Photo from Wikepedia via Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, Montana).
The team found two parts of the ankylosaur larynx. They found that one part was quite large compared to other animals, suggesting that the ankylosaur could open its airway wide and make loud calls that could be heard far away.
Birds and reptiles have very different ways of producing sounds using the organs that surround their windpipes and lungs. In extinct and living crocodile and crocodile relatives, the larynx produces sound. In birds, the syrinx sits closer to the lungs. Birds have another organ, located near their mouths, for changing up those sounds, allowing for song variations.
The second ankylosaur larynx, a relatively long pair of bones, could have permitted the windpipe to change shape to modify sounds and it’s possible ankylosaur could have had a broader range of sounds than previously imagined (by either Hollywood or scientists). More here in the journal Communication Biology.
Final thought: Wouldn’t Syrinx make a great band name?
The Great Body Teachers
This book looks fascinating—The Great Body Teachers by Jackie Dent. A review in the Sydney Morning Herald describes the book as “captivating.” The book, published in March 2023 by Ultimo Press, builds around the fact that both of Dent’s grandparents donated their bodies to medical science in 1950s Queensland (Australia). In the book, Dent writes about her work to find out why they did so and what might have happened to their bodies.
“Her writing is as much an examination of her own preconceptions and emotional responses as a history lesson,” says the review. “Dent’s discoveries come at random moments, through chance encounters. Her understandable hesitation at the notion of being a body donor, like her grandparents, waxes and wanes as trickles of information—both welcome and disturbing—drip into her cerebral petri dish.”
In an article in The Guardian, Dent said she has become an “amateur dissection wonk” and she’s come to appreciate the “enormous contribution” that the dissected have made to medicine for the past 2,000 years. “We are alive because of them. They should be better known in the history of science as a cohort who created a body of knowledge,” she writes.
Human Body Donations
On a related note, the American Association for Anatomy has created a committee dedicated to the ethics of human body donations. The committee is being charged with “advocating and promoting ethical whole body donation guidelines for education and research.”
According to its charge, the Human Body Donation Committee will increase awareness of and respect for issues important to human body donors and the body donation process; advocate for (or against) legislation and regulations that impact human body donors and donor program institutions that are in the best interest of the donors; promote best practices and develop guidelines that support education and research while protecting the best interests of human body donors and their families before, during and after donation; advocate for diversity and inclusion in body donor populations; and maintain resources and act as an interface for information on body donation and education in body donation research.
In a news release, AAA President Valerie DeLeon said the committee’s formation is an outgrowth of the organization’s work to “critically examine its institutional history” and to take new steps “to minimize racism, bias and lack of respect for donors and their families.”
We love this creative thinking by Karon Johnson, a student at the Educational Technology Master’s Degree Program at Loyola University. Johnson, who is also a high school teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools, applied for and will receive a $5,000 grant from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. The grant will provide high school students with access to makerspaces, technology, and dance. The goal is to develop individuals into “diverse 21st-century artists.”
In Karon's classroom, according to this release from Loyola University, dance anatomy has become a “massive part of connecting body parts to movement and stage design” and the new immersive technology application “will allow students to connect with parts of the human body through self-discovery to better understand how their body moves and works in dance.”
We are big fans of that approach! Congratulations, Karon.