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Taking A New Look At Some Old Bones
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I think it's paleontologist, your greedy more excited than very, very old bones. Bones can tell us how old animals got phones can tell us how often the animal would go into something like hibernation. I can tell us if the animal laid eggs or not like bones are the libraries of the past. She's a PhD student at the museum. For not the kunda in Berlin Germany, where she studied bone Evolution, bones that are anywhere from 10000 to 480 million years old digging for clues that help explain. Why do we have bone? Why is bone shaped the way it is? And why does it work the way it does? And is part of a research, Yara studies osteocytes cells that live inside the bones of most animals including us to help me exercise are absolutely these Stars when it comes to bones and bone cells, they talk to each other and they sense pressure, they sensed changes in chemistry and they basically tell them
List of the osteocytes around them, if it's all good or if they need to destroy and rebuild. So they definitely are in the middle of all kinds of bone changes.
But here's the kicker in the fossils that yard looks at these houses of sites aren't there anymore. They died a long time ago with the animal. So what I'm doing is basically studying the ghosts of these cells, the the footsteps that are left behind the shape that's left behind in the bone. That is the perfect cast of these cells. So amazing, like going out in the snow and you flop over and you start making like a snow angel, that snow angel is what I study your was working really hard to create images of these tiny snow angels in an ancient jawless fish fossil to better understand how these cells work. But those images weren't really giving her what she needed. All the big questions I wanted to ask the technology, just wasn't there yet.
So at some point, I was ready to wash my hands of the whole project and be like, well, I guess this is for the next-generation to figure out and I had totally hit a wall and then with a bit of luck in the help of her collaborators Yara figured out a whole new way to look at ancient bones. I was like this is real. Nobody had seen fossil cells are cell spaces at this resolution before the show, I talk phones with your Authority and learn what led her to create the best images of ancient osteocytes yet and what does images told her about this? Ancient fish's, bones and ours. I'm a decent fire and this is shortwave the daily science podcast from NPR.
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Okay, so we are here with paleontologist yaara di today. So Yara, before we get into the school Discovery your PhD is specifically in bone Evolution. So, what can eat bones, really tell us. Maddie what can't they tell us? It's true, it's true because it's not just, it's not just theoretical anymore, you know, right. It's amazing. What people will model do, this is possibly when Flight evolved all this is possibly when climbing evolve, dirt bike, or you being able to walk on two feet evolved? But what bones tell us these fossils are they tell us what actually happened? They're not theoretical. Say absolutely are likely mentioned your ass said. He's osteocytes these amazing cells that live in our bones. I mean they communicate with each other to break down bone releasing minerals, our bodies.
Need so cool. But remember, Yara is looking at fossils. The osteocytes are long gone. All that's left is the empty space where they used to be, and the traditional methods she was using to look at that space. Just weren't cutting it for her to take a piece of tissue and we put it on a slide and we make it really sad so you can shine some light through it and see what it's made of.
No problem is when you're trying to look at sells like this. You can only see them in too deep which is fine. If you just want to look at the shape or if they're there or not. But if you're actually trying to figure out how they communicate with one another, or how many of them there are in 3D space. It becomes really difficult. It's basically trying to understand what is fear is when you only have a circle, but you eventually figured out a way to get very cool images of fossilized cell spaces, but you kind of got this idea by accident. If that's fair to say like you have to tell me the story behind this so Maddie it was a complete accident. I mean by complete accident. I mean, like it was an accident for me to discover that this method already existed and people been using it in battery in Material Science for years. I'm working with this amazing team at The helmholtz Institute here in Berlin and we work out.
Three different unrelated project and I was walking down the Halls. This poster that was posted on the wall, it was my father's and the images on the poster looked like they look like fossil cells and I freaked out. I basically every thought she was someone else is doing better. Work there standing right beside me, right? And I grab them, like, what is this, like, what is this method? Where did you get these images and they're super nonchalant? And they're like, all this, like it's just asked my girlfriend, like something. I've never heard of fright was basically, I feel like I have no idea what he's talking about the hallway and you were like, what is that? What did you do? And they were like, you are we do this all the time? You just don't know.
Working with these materials scientist to create these super detailed 3D images of of osteocytes, like very, very briefly and understanding my limitations over here. How did this technology work? Think of it this way, you have a multi-layered cake. You're going to take a slice at a time and you can reveal the layers at a time. And as you revealing these layers, you're taking a picture of the new layer that you've just revealed in a slice of cake. Can you take a picture? And now you have have, you know, you can see the new layer. And so having that stack of images, you have all your pictures that you've taken together. You put them in a software that basically makes a 3D model and the software itself is not new. The machine itself is not new, it's just applying it to fossils. Was the new part. You're wanted to use this technology to ask some big questions about osteocytes. See a lot of
Animals with bones have them but not all. So why did these cells evolve in the first place? So one of the running series is since all the animals that don't have us are doing everything, fine, it must be something inherent to the cell itself. And one of the things that osteocytes can do is basically eat the bone around them and redistribute that mineral back into the bloodstream. What that means is is mineral metabolism. It's basically a recycling, your minerals. So go since your blood, so your muscles and brain can use it cuz everything from your neurons to your muscles, uses calcium and phosphate so it's like a little like extra Supply in your bones for the rest of your body. Exactly your whole skeleton. Is this battery packs that can be used and reused, and you can actually store and minerals back into it, so we know ostracize do this.
Did the very first osteocytes do this and is that possibly why ostracize evolved in the first place? Because that would be an incredible advantage over animals that don't have osteocytes right to have this battery. So, using this newly adaptive technology. She went looking for very old, osteocytes way back and an ancient jawless. Fish. One of her many distant evolutionary ancestors, the very first images that we got back had not only the cool cells and everything and it had enough of a resolution that we could figure out that. Yeah, the cells work to talk to their neighbors and they have this many connections connections comparable to human cells was one of the images that we had one of the cells had an area around it in the bone that had very low density so it has less bone around it then
The rest of the bone, which was pretty weird and wouldn't make much sense unless, you know, about mineral metabolism. You're at literally caught osteocytes, breaking down, bones in a 420 million year old fish, which is very cool. And can actually tell us about us and our bones. It means that not only did that process exist at that time, but it's very likely that it's one of the reasons that phones with osteocytes became the prevailing bone type for millions of years. After that scientists had assumed this process of breaking down bone, might go back all the way to the very first fish that had bone, but this was actual evidence. I thought, you know, like I thought I was the luckiest person first of all, because it really is luck from from seeing the poster on the wall to picking the right special.
To actually being able to see this ad a resolution. That's understandable is absolutely pure luck. I mean, I want to say I'm a smart scientist and everything. I want to take all the credit, you put them together. A lot of people could walk past and posters all I'm saying, a lot of people can walk past a poster. I really appreciate that.
Okay you're really this was so much fun. I don't remember for Life, honestly. Phones are the answer. That's how I feel.
Thank you so much for having me.
This episode was edited by Viet Lai and Geoff brumfiel fact-checked by Tyler, Jones and produced by Russia a Rudy, speaking of which this is Russia's last episode with us as a full-time short, waiver Russia. We know you'll keep spreading science joy and sticking up for Creepy Crawlers. Everywhere you go from all of us on the shortwave. Team. Thank you, we appreciate you so. So much going to do big things. You do, you know, Big Bang.
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