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Alice Denyer: Evolution of the patella and patelloid in marsupial mammals

Having diverged from the common ancestor of therian mammals during the late Jurassic period, some 160 million years ago, marsupials are a diverse and biologically fascinating group of mammals. A hallmark of marsupials is their developmental strategy: marsupials have relatively short gestation periods, after which the newborn crawls to the teat for a prolonged lactation phase, typically within a pouch.

The musculoskeletal system of marsupial mammals has numerous unusual features beyond the pouch and epipubic bones. One example is the widespread absence or reduction (to a fibrous “patelloid”) of the patella (“kneecap”) sesamoid bone, but prior studies with coarse sampling indicated complex patterns of evolution of this absence or reduction. Here, we conducted an in-depth investigation into the form of the patella of extant marsupial species and used the assembled dataset to reconstruct the likely pattern of evolution of the marsupial patella. 

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