The nature of aspidin and the evolutionary origin of bone

Joseph Keating*, Federica Marone, Philip Donoghue, Chloe L. Marquart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
309 Downloads (Pure)


Bone is the key innovation underpinning the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton, yet its origin is mired by debate over interpretation of the most primitive bone-like tissue, aspidin. This has variously been interpreted as cellular bone, acellular bone, dentine or an intermediate of dentine and bone. The crux of the controversy is the nature of unmineralized spaces pervading the aspidin matrix, which have alternatively been interpreted as having housed cells, cell processes or Sharpey’s fibres. Discriminating between these hypotheses has been hindered by the limits of traditional histological methods. Here, we use synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy to reveal the nature of aspidin. We show that the spaces exhibit a linear morphology incompatible with interpretations that they represent voids left by cells or cell processes. Instead, these spaces represent intrinsic collagen fibre bundles that form a scaffold about which mineral was deposited. Aspidin is thus acellular dermal bone. We reject hypotheses that it is a type of dentine, cellular bone or transitional tissue. Our study suggests that the full repertoire of skeletal tissue types was established before the divergence of the earliest known skeletonizing vertebrates, indicating that the corresponding cell types evolved rapidly following the divergence of cyclostomes and gnathostomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1501-1506
Number of pages6
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018

Structured keywords

  • MSc Palaeobiology


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