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NJIT researchers make a major cavefish discovery in Thailand

March 24, 2016

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have identified unique anatomical features in a species of blind, walking cavefish in Thailand that enable the fish to walk and climb waterfalls in a manner comparable to tetrapods, or four-footed mammals and amphibians. The discovery of this capability, not seen in any other living fishes, also has implications for understanding how the anatomy that all species need to walk on land evolved after the transition from finned to limbed appendages in the Devonian period, which began some 420 million years ago.

This research is reported in a March 24 Nature Scientific Reports article, "Tetrapod-like pelvic girdle in a walking cavefish," by Brooke E. Flammang, Daphne Soares, Julie Markiewicz and Apinun Suvarnaraksha. Flammang and Soares, assistant professors in the NJIT Department of Biological Sciences, were assisted with the research by Markiewicz, an NJIT post-baccalaureate research volunteer in the Flammang lab at the university. Investigator Suvarnaraksha is a member of the Faculty of Fisheries Technology and Aquatic Resources of Maejo University in Thailand. The full text of their article is available at http://www.nature.com/articles/srep23711.

Speaking of the unique anatomical structures seen in the cavefish, Cryptotora thamicola, Flammang says, "It possesses morphological features that have previously only been attributed to tetrapods. The pelvis and vertebral column of this fish allow it to support its body weight against gravity and provide large sites for muscle attachment for walking." With respect to evolutionary significance, she adds, "This research gives us insight into the plasticity of the fish body plan and the convergent morphological features that were seen in the evolution of tetrapods."
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For more about this leading-edge research, see the video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SguiYeG_O8o

About NJIT

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology- dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 11,300 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com.

New Jersey Institute of Technology

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