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Discovery Channel Canada to Feature University Researchers

Show Will Highlight Studies on Vertebrae of Snakes and Lizards

Assoc. Prof. Bruce Young with grad student Amy Reichlen.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Assoc. Prof. Bruce Young, director of the Anatomical Laboratory in the Department of Physical Therapy, and biomedical engineering Ph.D. student Amy Reichlen will be featured in a Discovery Channel Canada television episode that will highlight their research on the backbones of lizards and snakes.

The hourlong TV series, called “Daily Planet,” features news, documentaries, discussions and commentaries on the scientific aspects of current events.

“The segment about Prof. Young and his student will be about five to six minutes long and will air sometime this fall,” says Agatha Rachpaul, the program’s producer.

“The show will focus on the mechanics of the vertebral column during locomotion,” says Young. “The star of the show will be the Asian water monitor lizards that Amy and I are studying. They were filmed in my lab exercising on a treadmill and swimming in a special tank; we even did some quick electromyography of the lizards’ muscles.”

Young says the idea for the story came about when he and Reichlen participated in a recent international symposium in Paris on large extinct marine lizards.

“Agatha learned of the meeting and, since she had previously done several stories on my research, contacted me to find out what we were doing,” he says. “Our discussions quickly led to her decision to do a segment on the current studies in my lab.”

Young’s project centers on the mobility of the vertebral column and how that mobility can evolve.

“Specifically, Amy and I are interested in the transition from a lizard vertebral column, which really only moves laterally, to the snake vertebral column, which moves laterally and up and down,” he says. “This is a natural thing to study in a physical therapy department and it is really the core around which my research program is built. While Amy is looking at the vertebral mechanics, I am exploring related issues such as how the transition in the vertebral column is related to the loss of legs in snakes and how this is different in vertebral mechanics regulated by spinal nerves.”

Young is a recognized expert on the subject. His research has given him the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at institutions worldwide and to travel extensively. He has conducted field work in the Amazon, South Africa, the Gulf of Mexico, Guam and India, and his research has been featured on shows by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel and National Public Radio and in print by Discover, New Scientist, Scientific American, BBC and The New York Times.

Visit for the show’s schedule and updates.

An Asian water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator).