EMB Blog Post 1: Who’s Who in EMB, part 1: Staff

In our group, EMB (Evolutionary Morphology and Biomechanics), we study a wide range of both species and anatomical regions. From the familiar feet of humans right through to perhaps the more unfamiliar necks of dinosaurs, members of EMB study it all. Despite this huge disparate variety of subject areas, we all strive to answer questions relating to both biomechanics and morphology. After all, we can’t know why we are the way we are, without knowing where we’ve come from.

Just what are these two subject areas? Simply put, they both involve the study of how the anatomy of an animal (humans included!) relates to a certain function (e.g. how the morphology of a bone or muscle influences the way an animal walks and runs). Some of us focus on how this relationship between form and function has evolved over time, whilst others focus on how form and function changes due to disease and ageing.

To give you an essence of what members of EMB actually do, and just what our research is all about, we asked some of them 3 questions: What’s your role in EMB? What are you currently working on? How and why did you get into your research? This week, we asked 2 of our members of staff: Kris D’Août and Karl Bates.

Kris:

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What’s your role in EMB?

I’ve been a lecturer in the EMB group since 2013, but have known about the group for around 15 years.

What are you currently working on?

My interest is broad and that’s reflected in my research. One of my main interests is the variation in human gait and especially foot function. With students, I have done field work in India, Finland and Brazil, to collect gait data of different local people. But variability also occurs within populations, e.g. look at flat feet or high-arched feet. And of course, gait changes with different types of footwear, as we deal with complex terrain (see also Ali, who’ll be talking about this in the next intro post!), or as we get older and may develop conditions like osteo-arthritis (another student of mine, Miral, works on this).

How and why did you get into your current research?

My background is in Zoology and my first research (a Masters project) was at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, on the feeding mechanism in crocodiles. For my PhD I worked on the biomechanics (and some muscle physiology) of swimming in elongate animals (I studied salamanders and eels). My postdoc revolved around the evolution of upright walking in hominins, using bonobos (Pan paniscus) as “models”. This involved making a set-up similar to a “gait lab” in Planckendael Zoo in Belgium. After this, I gradually moved to people as the study subjects, but their evolution is always in the back of my mind and I still have an interest in primate and hominin locomotion. Just before I came to Liverpool, I worked in a European project with roboticists and artificial intelligence, combining data from biology and engineering in order to help design efficient and robust robots. This is a very varied background, but I find it very useful for my research which is now focusing on the biomechanics of ageing and chronic disease. This varied background also allows me to teach a variety of subjects such as Primate Biology and Biomechanics.

Karl:

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What’s your role in EMB?

I’ve been a lecturer in EMB since 2013. Previously I worked here as a post-doctoral researcher.

What are you currently working on?

My PhD students and I work on a wide variety of areas, although most relate directly to limb anatomy and locomotion. Current projects include research into human knees and feet, living and extinct archosaurs (birds, crocodilians and dinosaurs), and a range of other living animals including dogs and horses.

 How and why did you get into your current research?

My Masters and PhD research looked at body shape, limb anatomy and locomotion in predatory dinosaurs. These animals are unique in many details of their morphology and also in terms of body size; animals like T. rex were an order of magnitude larger than any animal alive today that walks on two legs. The engineering challenges that predatory dinosaurs of this size faced to locomote safely and efficiently sparked my interest in functional anatomy and biomechanics. Since my PhD this interest has motivated me to broaden my work to examine links between anatomy and locomotion in a wide variety of animals, including birds, humans and other mammals. In my research I try to use as many techniques and approaches as possible to best answer questions about anatomy and biomechanics, including experimental techniques (e.g. motion capture, pressure platforms), medical imaging (e.g. CT, MRI) and computer simulation methods typically employed in engineering such as finite element analysis.

That just about wraps up our first post! Stay tuned for more introductions for some of our students, and an exciting article on some of Karl’s new research!