Meet Julia Molnar-AAA Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipient
As an Assistant Professor of Anatomy at the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), I teach medical gross anatomy and study the evolution of vertebrate locomotion. My colleagues in the department are mostly paleontologists and functional morphologists, and my students are first-year medical students in the Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine program. I especially enjoy teaching these students because they are interested in human anatomy in the context of evolution, development, and structure-function relationships, which ties in with my research area.
One research project I am really excited about right now is on the evolution of chameleon locomotion. Chameleons are the only truly arboreal lizards, and, convergently with mammals and birds, they have adopted erect limb postures and parasagittal kinematics that allow them to walk on narrow branches. We are investigating the how chameleon locomotion, development, and functional morphology evolved by studying a range of taxa including smaller, more terrestrial chameleons and extinct chameleons.
The article I published recently with my colleagues John Hutchinson, Rui Diogo, and Stephanie Pierce in Biological Reviews (Molnar et al., 2017: “Reconstructing pectoral appendicular muscle anatomy in fossil fish and tetrapods over the fins-to-limbs transition”) is a major part of the work I did as an AAA postdoctoral Fellow. It builds upon our first publication (Diogo et al. 2016: “Characteristic tetrapod musculoskeletal limb phenotype emerged more than 400 MYA in basal lobe-finned fishes”) by re-examining the fossil record of early tetrapods – the first land vertebrates – in the light of the appendicular muscle homologies we proposed in that publication. This study was the first to trace homologous osteological correlates of muscle attachment all the way from basal sarcopterygians (the ancestors of lungfish, coelacanths, and tetrapods) to crown tetrapods. We were able to track the attachments of many muscles as they changed from large, undifferentiated muscle masses in fish to individual tetrapod muscles.
The next steps in this research project are to reconstruct hindlimb muscles in the same taxa and compare them with forelimb muscles. Then, we plan to use this information to reconstruct muscle leverage in fossil taxa and closely related modern taxa to answer questions about limb function and locomotion over the water-land transition. We presented preliminary results from this work at the AAA at EB 2017 annual meeting (Molnar et al, 2017: “Changes in pectoral appendicular muscle anatomy and function over the water-land transition in tetrapods”; poster award finalist).
My professional goals are to establish and grow an externally funded research program in vertebrate locomotor evolution at NYITCOM. Toward that end, I hope to attract new students and collaborators who also want to study the evolution of locomotion through some combination of paleontology, modelling, and experimental work on extant animals.