Millions of tiny finger-like structures called microvilli carpet the inner lining of our gut. Were we to flatten its surface, we could cover a tennis court. The large surface area makes for efficient absorption of nutrients from passing food. Faulty or missing microvilli, sometimes the result of genetic defects, can cause a range of diseases of the digestive system. Here, pictured are two samples of microvilli grown in the laboratory. Microvilli in the left-hand image are normal while those on the right, deprived of a protein called Sec13, have failed to develop and organise properly. The scientists conclude that Sec13 protein is vital to stimulate particular gut cells to secrete [release] substances that help them embed in the wall, and develop into microvilli. This research throws light on how gene faults can result in certain digestive disorders and paves the way for developing novel treatments.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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