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Refusing to Fuse
15 September 2014

Refusing to Fuse

Our skull may look and feel solid but it's actually made up of 28 separate bones that fuse together during development. Having multiple junctions allows the skull to squeeze through the birth canal and then keep up with rapid brain growth. If this process is not perfectly orchestrated, however, children can be born with serious deformations. Cleft palates, which affect one in 700 newborns, are a case in point, caused when the two arch-like plates in the roof of their mouth fail to come together in the womb. Left with a hole in their palate, children can develop speech and feeding problems. The central pin-shaped blue region shows this gap in the skull of a mouse lacking a specific protein implicated in palate formation. In healthy animals with this protein, this space does not exist as the surrounding bones (coloured in pink) close in and fuse together before birth.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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