Like people in close-knit communities, neighbouring cells in our body need to stick together and talk to each other. So-called focal adhesions (coloured green) are one of the structures that allow cells to do this. Recent research has re-emphasized just how important these complexes are not just for maintaining the body, but also for building it to begin with. When scientists deleted a gene that’s necessary for these particular focal adhesions to form, the bellies of mouse embryos did not close fully, leaving the gut to protrude out of the body. Besides providing insights into the basic workings of cells, this discovery might also be of use in human medicine. About 1 in every 4000 babies born suffers from a similar condition called omphalocoele. This birth defect is very dangerous, and finding mechanisms that cause it could be a first step in the long road to specific treatments.
Written by Emma Bornebroek
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