This strip of muscle tissue was removed from a rat’s intestine and kept alive for two weeks, bathed in a chemical cocktail. Its yellow appearance here is produced by the mixture of cells in the enteric [intestinal] nervous system, stained red and green to highlight thriving machinery in this muscle strip, even outside the body. Inside our intestines, nervous impulses control the contraction of smooth muscle and ultimately the digestion of food, such as a large Christmas dinner. These lab-engineered muscle strips (measuring just 500-times smaller than an elastic band), could be excellent candidates for microscopic repair to intestines in conditions such as short bowel syndrome, and have already been grown across tiny bio-compatible scaffolds – a first step towards designing precise structures for future transplantation into human patients.
Written by John Ankers