Experimental models are needed for resolving relative influences of genetic, epigenetic, and nonheritable functionally induced (extragenetic) factors in the emergence of developmental adaptations in limb bones of larger mammals. We examined regional/ontogenetic morphologic variations in sheep calcanei, which exhibit marked heterogeneity in structural and material organization by skeletal maturity. Cross-sections and lateral radiographs of an ontogenetic series of domesticated sheep calcanei (fetal to adult) were examined for variations in biomechanically important structural (cortical thickness and trabecular architecture) and material (percent ash and predominant collagen fiber orientation) characteristics. Results showed delayed development of variations in cortical thickness and collagen fiber orientation, which correlate with extragenetic factors, including compression/tension strains of habitual bending in respective dorsal/plantar cortices and load-related thresholds for modeling/remodeling activities. In contrast, the appearance of trabecular arches in utero suggests strong genetic/epigenetic influences. These stark spatial/temporal variations in sheep calcanei provide a compelling model for investigating causal mechanisms that mediate this construction. In view of these findings, it is also suggested that the conventional distinction between genetic and epigenetic factors in limb bone development be expanded into three categories: genetic, epigenetic, and extragenetic factors.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics