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IU's Cyberinfrastructure:  Unlocking the secrets of vertebrate evolution

Project Leads: P. David Polly, professor of geological sciences at Indiana University
and Jason J. Head, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Research made possible by: Quarry supercomputer

Funded in-part by:  National Science Foundation, award EAR-1338298

Morphological variation in the pre-cloacal vertebral column of limbed lizards and snakes.
Figure 1. Morphological variation in the pre-cloacal vertebral column of limbed lizards and snakes. 

Using Quarry, a supercomputer at Indiana University, Polly and Head arrived at a compelling new explanation for why snake skeletons are so different: Vertebrates like mammals, birds, and crocodiles evolved additional skeletal regions independently from ancestors like snakes and lizards.

The research study that Polly & Head conducted found that snakes did not require extensive modification to their regulatory gene systems to evolve their elongate bodies.  Recently published in Nature, their research reveals that snake skeletons are just as regionalized as those of limbed vertebrates.

As high-performance computing resources reshape the future, scientists like Polly and Head have greater abilities to look into the past and unlock the secrets of evolution.


The High Performance Systems (HPS) group implements, operates, and supports some of the fastest supercomputers in the world – IU’s Big Red II, the Quarry cluster, Karst, and the large memory Mason system – in order to advance Indiana University's mission in research, training, and engagement in the state.  HPS also supports databases and database engines used by the IU community.

NSF GSS Codes:

Primary Field: Geosciences (302) - Geological and Earth Sciences/Geosciences

Secondary Field: Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Studies (980) - Biological and Physical Sciences/Natural Sciences