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OVC Scientist Wins International Award to Study Bone Plates in Lizards

Image of a geckoAn Ontario Veterinary College researcher is one of this year’s recipients of the Human Frontier Science Program’s (HFSP) collaborative research grants. 

Prof. Matt Vickaryous, Department of Biomedical Sciences in the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, and three colleagues from the U.K. and France will work in their respective fields to launch the first multidisciplinary investigation of osteoderms, exploring their development, evolution and mechanical properties. Vickaryous will receive just over $200,000 in funding over three years.

Osteoderms are small pieces of bone that grow directly within the skin of animals such as lizards, crocodiles and armadillos. While many lizard species have osteoderms, little is known about how they grow, what they are used for, and why some species have them while others don’t.

Using a range of methods, the researchers will study these unusual skeletal elements at various levels, from individual molecules and cells, to how hundreds of osteoderms work together.

“Osteoderms are a long-overlooked component of the skeleton,” said Vickaryous. “Available evidence suggests that their development is unlike other bones, which begs the question why. And why are osteoderms common to some groups of lizards, but entirely absent from others? In some species they appear to function as a type of armour, but this might not be true for all lizards.

“If we can understand how osteoderms develop, it could even shed light on certain disease conditions.”

The research team will also probe how some lizards can regenerate osteoderms — perhaps leading to insights about bone repair and regeneration in other species.

In 2017, research by one of his PhD students revealed the type of stem cell that allows a gecko to regrow its tail. Now Vickaryous will focus on osteoderm regeneration.

HFSP research grants are awarded annually to diverse, international teams conducting groundbreaking research.

Read the entire article on the University of Guelph website