In DepthEvolution

A modular backbone aided the rise of mammals

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1176
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6408.1176

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Summary

Run, climb, breathe deep. You might not connect those abilities to your backbone. In fact, mammals owe many of their capabilities to the complex structure of their spine, which has five distinct regions, each free to adopt specialized functions. An investigation of fossils from the dawn of mammals has shown how the spine's number of regions expanded from three to five during that time. These regions became modular; first a pectoral region behind the neck changed, making possible a muscled diaphragm and later the lumber region formed. Vertebrae in this module also evolved on their own course and enabled mammals to adapt to new lifestyles.

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