The structures inside animals' thigh bones that enable them to support huge loads whilst being relatively lightweight are revealed in research published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers say their work could lead to the development of new materials based on thigh bone geometry.
A team from Imperial College London and the Royal Veterinary College collected thigh bone samples from British museum collections and zoos, analysing specimens of the femur bone from 90 different species including the Asian elephant, Etruscan shrew, roadrunner, crocodile, emu, turkey, leopard and giraffe. They explored how animal size related to the formation of an interlinking lattice of tiny bone struts inside the femur called trabeculae. The researchers found that trabeculae, typically found near joints, have different geometry depending on the size of the species.
The researchers say their new understanding of how femur bones are structured could be used to advance a class of tough, light-weight structural materials, which could be used to improve bodywork for planes and cars.
Dr Michael Doube, lead author of the study from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, who is also a veterinary surgeon, says:
"Scientists had not previously known that the structure of trabeculae varied, or scaled up, depending on the size of the animal. We assumed that trabeculae would be important in supporting the weight of larger creatures such as Asian elephants, which can weigh more than three tonnes. However, we were surprised to find that animals that have comparatively lighter loads, such as the Etruscan shrew, weighing three grams, also has trabeculae supporting its tiny body. Our study is helping us to see how the remarkable geometry of trabeculae supports loads in all creatures, no matter how big or small they are."
The scientists found that even though the overall amount of bone per
|Contact: Colin Smith|
Imperial College London