Functional morphology of cartilage tissues in the skeletal system of chondrichthyans: investigating key biomechanical adaptations to depth and vertical movements
This research will investigate the composition and biophysical characteristics of cartilaginous tissues in the skeleton of selected ‘deep-sea’ versus ‘shallow’ chondrichthyan fish species. Specifically, this PhD research will aim to 1) characterise the general morphological, cellular and structural organisation, chemical composition and physical properties of the “soft” skeleton, i.e., the un-mineralised cartilage; 2) determine the chemical and structural organisation, and physical properties of the “hard” skeleton, i.e., the mineralised cartilage; and 3) assess the cellular interactions and mechanical properties at the interface of both cartilage types whereby a focus will be on the extracellular matrix (ECM). Results will be analysed in relation to species ecology (depth range) and lifestyle (diving behaviours), as well as phylogeny. The project will ultimately assess for the first time whether any key biological adaptations to extreme and/or extremely varying hydrostatic pressures are present, which could help to better understand the evolution of the skeletal system in this fish group. Findings from this fundamental research will directly be used to build a baseline knowledge of cartilage materials evolved to withstand high hydrostatic pressures in these fish models and will inform future research in cartilage tissue engineering and regenerative, and biomimetics.