Dr Alex Ball

Dr Alexander Ball

Head of Division (Imaging and Analysis)

Department: Core Research Laboratories
Division: Imaging and Analysis Centre
Contact: email
Phone: 0207 942 5263


Computed Tomography, Confocal Microscopy, Electron Microscopy, Light microscopy, Micro-CT, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Transmission Electron Microscopy


Research background My PhD concentrated on the ontogeny of the foregut of neogastropod molluscs. I still have an interest in this area, but no longer have the time to continue to carry out research in this subject. Molluscs are fascinating creatures and offer great opportunities as model organisms to study a variety of different problems. My own research investigated the link between ontogeny and phylogeny. On a practical level I worked with a species called Nucella lapillus which has encapsulated development. By collecting egg capsules at different stages in development I was able to build a development sequence for the larval stages. Specimens were fixed using conventional techniques for SEM and TEM. Whole larvae were photographed using SEM and specimens for light microscopy and TEM were prepared in the normal way for TEM. I then serial-sectioned the specimens for light microscopy at 1 micron intervals and used a fairly primitive computer-aided 3D reconstruction programme to work out the internal anatomy in three dimensions. TEM filled in the last gaps in the puzzle by allowing me to positively identify tissue types in the developing embryos and to compare the histology between different organs. All of this work has been published (see the refs in the publication record). After working on Nucella, I turned my attention to cone snails. I wanted to see how different the development in the Conoidea was from the Muricoidea. Cone snails have a very different proboscis, highly evolved buccal mass and have a venom gland which seems to be a derivation of the midgut gland (gland of Leiblein) found in Nucella. Once again, I picked a species with encapsulated development and spent several weeks collecting egg capsules of Conus anemone in Western Australia. I was not able to get as complete a developmental sequence with this species, but the stages were informative enough to show that there are some very interesting parallels between the two species. Again this work has been published. It's clear that studying development in a model group which has a high degree of morphological diversity with "proper" organs offers a great opportunity for understanding both the development and evolution of complete organ systems. Modern techniques, such as micro CT, still can't quite match up to the tedious and technically demanding challenge of preparing serial sections of specimens, but at least now we can photograph the specimens with a digital camera rather than having to draw the sections using a camera lucida! Louise Page at The University of Victoria is also carrying out research in this field, see her webpages here. http://web.uvic.ca/~lpage/WebSite2000ResProgr.htm and some of her publications: Page, L.R. 2000. Development and evolution of adult feeding structures in caenogastropods: overcoming larval functional constraints. Evolution & Development 2: 25-34. Page, L.R. and Pedersen, R.V.K. 1998. Transformation of phytoplanktivorous larvae into predatory carnivores during the development of Polinices lewisii (Mollusca, Caenogastropoda). Invertebrate Biology 117: 208-220. My current research interests are really methodology-driven towards trying to get the best out of the wide range of instrumentation that we have available in the EMMA labs at the Natural History Museum. We have an incredible number of visitors to our laboratories and a bewildering diversity of different specimens to examine. Finding the appropriate technique to meet the demands of the researchers requires experience and a willingness to experiment. I try to attend as many scientific meetings as I can and am active in several microscopy societies, including organising the occasional large meeting to try and bring researchers from different disciplines together.



PhD, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom, 1990 - 1994


Georgieva MN, Little CTS, Ball AD, Glover AG (2014) Mineralization of Alvinella polychaete tubes at hydrothermal vents. Geobiology, 13 (2)doi: 10.1111/gbi.12123

Knight RI, Morris NJ, Todd JA, Howard LE, Ball AD (2014) Exceptional preservation of a novel gill grade in large cretaceous inoceramids: Systematic and palaeobiological implications. Palaeontology, 57 (1): 37 - 54. doi: 10.1111/pala.12046

Dauphin Y, Ball AD, Castillo-Michel H, Chevallard C, Cuif J, Farre B, Pouvreau S, Salome M (2013) In situ distribution and characterization of the organic content of the oyster shell Crassostrea gigas (Mollusca, Bivalvia). Micron, 44 : 373 - 383. doi: 10.1016/j.micron.2012.09.002

Clark PF, Fujita Y, Ball AD, Ng PKL (2012) The first zoeal stage morphology of Crossotonotus spinipes (De Man, 1888) and Pseudopalicus serripes (Alcock & Anderson, 1895), with implications for palicoid systematics (Crustacea: Brachyura: Palicoidea). Zootaxa, (3367): 191 - 203.

Griesshaber E, Goetz AJ, Howard L, Ball A, Ruff S, Schmahl WW (2012) Crystal architecture of the tooth and jaw bone (pyramid) of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus. Bioinspired Biomimetic and Nanobiomaterials, 1 (2): 133 - 139. doi: 10.1680/bbn.11.00018

Schmahl WW, Griesshaber E, Kelm K, Ball A, Goetz A, Xu D, Kreitmeier L, Jordan G (2012) Towards systematics of calcite biocrystals: insight from the inside. Zeitschrift Fur Kristallographie, 227 (8): 604 - 611. doi: 10.1524/zkri.2012.1479

Schmahl WW, Griesshaber E, Kelm K, Goetz A, Jordan G, Ball A, Xu D, Merkel C, Brand U (2012) Hierarchical structure of marine shell biomaterials: biomechanical functionalization of calcite by brachiopods. Zeitschrift für Kristallographie-Crystalline Materials, 227 (11): 793 - 804. doi: 10.1524/zkri.2012.1542

Wicklein M, Schwyn DA, Simonsen TJ, Howard LE, Ball AD, Abel RL, Krapp HG (2012) Radiocontrast micro-CT imaging optimised for differential tissue segmentation in Calliphora vicina (blowfly). The 15th European Microscopy Congress,

Ball A, Abel R, Ambers J, Brierley L, Howard L (2011) Micro-Computed Tomography Applied To Museum Collections. Microscopy and Microanalysis, 17 : 1794 - 1795.

INGRAM AL, Deparis O, BALL A, Boulenguez J, KENNAWAY G, Berthier S, PARKER AR (2010) Structural origin of the green iridescence on the chelicerae of the red-backed jumping spider, Phidippus johnsoni (Salticidae: Araneae). Arthropod Structure and Development, 40 (1): 21 - 25. doi: 10.1016/j.asd.2010.07.006

Dinley J, Hawkins L, Paterson G, Ball AD, Sinclair I, Sinnett-Jones P, Lanham S (2010) Micro-computed X-ray tomography: a new non-destructive method of assessing sectional, fly-through and 3D imaging of a soft-bodied marine worm. Journal of Microscopy, 238 (2): 123 - 133. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2818.2009.03335.x

Butler AD, Edgecombe GD, Ball AD, Giribet G (2010) Resolving the phylogenetic position of enigmatic New Guinea and Seychelles Scutigeromorpha (Chilopoda): a molecular and morphological assessment of Ballonemini. Invertebrate Systematics, 24 (6): 539 - 559. doi: 10.1071/is10037

Compton SG, Ball AD, Collinson ME, Hayes P, Rasnitsyn AP, Ross AJ (2010) Ancient fig wasps indicate at least 34 Myr of stasis in their mutualism with fig trees. Biology Letters, 6 (6): 838 - 842. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0389

Ball AD, Purdy KJ, Glover EA, Taylor JD (2009) Ctenidial structure and three bacterial symbiont morphotypes in Anodontia (Euanodontia) ovum (Reeve, 1850) from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Bivalvia: Lucinidae). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 75 (2): 175 - 185. doi: 10.1093/mollus/eyp009

Ingram AL, Ball AD, Parker AR, Deparis O, Boulenguez J, Berthier S (2009) Characterization of the green iridescence on the chelicerae of the tube web spider, Segestria florentina (Rossi 1790) (Araneae, Segestriidae). Journal of Arachnology, 37 (1): 68 - 71. doi: 10.1636/SH07-87.1

Sartori AF, Ball AD (2009) Morphology and postlarval development of the ligament of Thracia phaseolina (Bivalvia: Thraciidae), with a discussion of model choice in allometric studies. Journal of Molluscan Studies, 75 (3): 295 - 304. doi: 10.1093/mollus/eyp029

Cuif J, Ball AD, Dauphin Y, Farre B, Nouet J, Perez-Huerta A, Salome M, Williams CT (2008) Structural, mineralogical, and biochemical diversity in the lower part of the pearl layer of cultivated seawater pearls from Polynesia. Microscopy and Microanalysis, 14 (5): 405 - 417. doi: 10.1017/s1431927608080859

Dauphin Y, Ball AD, Cotte M, Cuif J, Meibom A, Salome M, Susini J, Williams CT (2008) Structure and composition of the nacre-prisms transition in the shell of Pinctada margaritifera (Mollusca, Bivalvia). Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 390 (6): 1659 - 1669. doi: 10.1007/s00216-008-1860-z

Perez-Huerta A, Cusack M, Ball A, Williams CT, Mackay S (2008) Deciphering the distribution of organic components in brachiopod shells by confocal laser scanning microscopy. Journal of Microscopy-Oxford, 230 (1): 94 - 99. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2818.2008.01961.x

Guzman N, Ball AD, Cuif J, Dauphin Y, Denis A, Ortlieb L (2007) Subdaily growth patterns and organo-mineral nanostructure of the growth layers in the calcitic prisms of the shell of Concholepas concholepas Bruguiere, 1789 (Gastropoda, Muricidae). Microscopy and Microanalysis, 13 (5): 397 - 403. doi: 10.1017/s1431927607070705

JONES C, BALL A. , (2004) Close Up. The Natural History Museum.

Kennaway GM, Baker AS, Ball AD (2004) A method for preparing lightly sclerotized mites for examination by transmission electron microscopy. Systematic and Applied Acarology, 9 : 3 - 9.

TAYLOR JD, GLOVER E, Peharda M, Bigatti G, BALL A (2004) Extraordinary flexible shell sculpture: the structure and formation of calcified periostracal lamellae in Lucina pensylvanica (Bivalvia: Lucinidae). Malacologia, 46 : 227 - 194.

Ball AD (2002) Foregut ontogeny of the Neogastropoda: Comparison of development in Nucella lapillus and Conus anemone. Bollettino Malacologico, 38 : 51 - 78.

Ball AD. , Walker DI, Wells FE (1999) Larval development of Conus anemone studied using scanning electron microscopy. null.

Bieler R, Ball AD, Mikkelsen PM (1998) Marine Valvatoidea-Comments on Anatomy and Systematics with Descriptions of a New Species from Florida (Heterobranchia: Cornirostridae). MALACOLOGIA-PHILADELPHIA-, 40 : 305 - 320.

Ball AD, Taylor JD, Andrews EB (1997) Development of the acinous and accessory salivary glands in Nucella lapillus (Neogastropoda: Muricoidea). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 63 : 245 - 260. doi: 10.1093/mollus/63.2.245

Ball AD, Andrews EB, Taylor JD (1997) The ontogeny of the pleurembolic proboscis in Nucella lapillus (Gastropoda: Muricidae). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 63 (1): 87 - 99. doi: 10.1093/mollus/63.1.87