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Snake Evolution

A study by an international group of scientists headed by Prof. Michael Richardson showed that asymmetry in the snake lungs manifests itself early in development.

Humans and many other animals have two lungs, lying side-by-side in the body. Snakes are different because their left lung is often small or completely missing. This is possibly because the snake body is so thin that there is not enough room for two lungs. The question is, how did the left lung become reduced in size during evolution?

Snake Lungs

An international group of scientists headed by Prof. Michael Richardson has looked into this question of the asymmetric snake lungs. The work was carried out during an internship by IBL-student Benjamin van Soldt, who could also benefit from the expertise of Prof. Robert Poelmann (IBL), Dr. Freek Vonk (Naturalis) and others.

The investigators examined snake embryos and adults using the microCT scanner of their colleagues at the University of Vienna. They found that, in some species, the left lung completely fails to develop in the embryo. In other species, it does develop, but grows only slowly and then stops developing. The study therefore reveals that the body plan of animals can evolve through changes in growth rates of embryonic organs.

Student career move

Probably partly as a result of this successful study on snake lungs, IBL-student Benjamin van Soldt was offered a PhD project in the USA at the prestigious Columbia University in New York.