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Something’s Fishy At The Hospital

Marine biologist Jacqueline Webb gets strange looks when she brings fish to the Orthopedics Research Lab at Rhode Island Hospital. While the facility’s micro-CT scanner is typically used to study bone density and diseases like osteoporosis in humans, it’s also providing new insights into the skull structure and sensory systems of fish.

A professor of biological sciences and director of the marine biology program, Webb studies the lateral line system, a sensory system in all fishes that enables them to detect water flows and vibrations in the water generated by either something that wants to eat them or perhaps something they want to eat. The system is contained in a series of tubular canals in the skull and on the body. When flows and vibrations in the environment cause water to move in the canals, the cilia on the sensory organs inside the canals send a signal to the fish’s brain.

“CT scanning technology is allowing us to learn about the internal structure of all sorts of animals in a way we could not before,” Webb said. “It’s as good as holding a perfect skeleton in your hand, but the resolution is so high that we can see minute features of bone structure that have not been appreciated before.”

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