Where life begins...

Dr. Nathan Bird

Dr. Nathan Bird
Assistant Professor
(319) 273-2454
McCollum Science Hall 109

Ph.D. 2009. Weintraub Program in Systematics and Evolution (Biological Sciences), George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
M.S. 2003. Biology. University of South Dakota, Vermillion, South Dakota.
B.S. 1999. Biology. University of South Dakota, Vermillion, South Dakota.

Teaching Interests: 
Vertebrate Anatomy, Comparative Anatomy, Developmental Biology, Evolution, EvoDevo

My research focuses on the development and evolution of the vertebrate skeletal system. In particular, I am interested in how novel structures and key innovations evolve in vertebrates. Using cypriniform fishes (minnows, loaches, etc.) as an evolutionary model, and the zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a developmental model, my lab is investigating the evolution and development of the Weberian apparatus, a novel modification of the vertebral column that allows for enhanced hearing in these fishes. Two complimentary major research projects are being used to elucidate the morphological diversity of the Weberian apparatus as well as the genetic mechanisms regulating its development.
First, a large scale project documenting the ontogenetic development of the Weberian apparatus across cypriniform taxa is ongoing (Bird and Hernandez 2007, 2008). This project utilizes primarily classic methods to document skeletal development, including whole mount clearing and staining as well as histological analysis of sectioned material to document the timing and growth of the Weberian apparatus. These classic methods are supplemented with more modern methods to document morphology, such as 3-D micro-CT reconstruction on preserved specimens. In addition to looking at the changes in bone size and shape, we are also documenting the parallel changes in ligaments, musculature, swim bladder, and inner ear to gain a system-wide understanding of sensory evolution (See Bird and Webb 2014, Webb et al 2014 for similar work on another sensory system, the mechanosensory lateral line).

Second, a long-term study on the developmental regulation of Weberian apparatus development is underway (Bird and Hernandez, unpublished). Initial work on this project is focusing on identifying the critical genetic players involved in Weberian apparatus development. Using the zebrafish, we are employing in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry (Bird et al. 2011) to determine the regulatory system in both space and time. This fundamental work will expand to include two additional projects. First, once the pattern of genetic regulation is known for the zebrafish, we can compare it to ancestral gene expression patterns in fishes without a Weberian apparatus, to gain an evolutionary perspective on the changes in genetic regulation during morphological evolution. Second, using known zebrafish mutants as well as transgenic zebrafish (see Windner et al. 2012 for examples), we are manipulating gene expression to disrupt Weberian apparatus development and documenting the morphological and functional consequences of regulatory changes. Previous analysis (Bird and Hernandez, unpublished) has revealed deviations in normal zebrafish development can result in morphological phenocopies of other cypriniform species.

  • Bird, NC, Richardson, SS, Abels, JR. 2020. Histological development and integration of the zebrafish Weberian apparatus. Developmental Dynamics 249 (8): 998-1017.
  • Bird, NC, Abels, JR, Richardson, SS. 2020. Histology and structural integration of the major morphologies of the cypriniform Weberian apparatus. Journal of Morphology 281(2): 273-293.
  • Becker, E, Bird, NC, and Webb, JF. 2016. Post-embryonic development of canal and superficial neuromasts and the generation of two cranial lateral line phenotypes. Journal of Morphology 277 (10):1273–1291.
  • Bird, NC and Webb, JF. 2014. Heterochrony, Modularity, and the Functional Evolution of the Mechanosensory Lateral Line Canal System of Fishes. EvoDevo 2014 5:21.
  • Webb, JF, Bird, NC, Carter, L, and Dickson, J. (2014) Comparative development and evolution of two lateral line phenotypes in Lake Malawi cichlids. Journal of Morphology.
  • Windner, SE, Bird, NC, Patterson, SE, Doris, RA, and Devoto, SH. (2012). Fss/Tbx6 is required for central dermomyotome cell fate in zebrafish. Biology Open 1: 806-814. doi: 10.1242/bio20121958
  • Bird, NC, Windner, SE, and Devoto, SH. (2011). Immunocytochemistry to study myogenesis in zebrafish. in Myogenesis. Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 798. DiMario, J.X., ed.
  • Patterson, SE, Bird, NC, and Devoto, SH. (2010). BMP regulation of myogenesis in zebrafish. Developmental Dynamics, 239:806-817. Cover illustration.
  • Bird, NC and Hernandez, LP. (2008). Building an evolutionary innovation: differential growth in the modified vertebral elements of the zebrafish Weberian apparatus. Zoology, 112:97-112.
  • Bird, NC and Hernandez, LP. (2007). Morphological variation in the Weberian apparatus of Cypriniformes. Journal of Morphology, 268:739–757. Cover illustration.
  • Hernandez, LP, Bird, NC and Staab, KL. (2007). Using zebrafish to investigate cypriniform evolutionary novelties: functional development and evolutionary diversification of the kinethmoid. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular Developmental Evolution), 308(5):625-641.
  • Bird, NC and Mabee, PM. (2003). Developmental morphology of the axial skeleton of the zebrafish, Danio rerio (Ostariophysi: Cyprinidae). Developmental Dynamics 228, 337-357.
  • Mabee, PM, Crotwell, PL, Bird, NC and Burke, AC. (2002). Evolution of median fin modules in the axial skeleton of fishes. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular Developmental Evolution) 294:77-90. Cover illustration.