Picture a network of train lines sprawling across a country, reaching for every corner. At first glance it might look a little chaotic, but it’s actually carefully planned to make best use of the available space. Inside our lungs a similar ordered chaos is laid down when we develop in our mother’s womb: a dense, precise network of tubes and compartments (pictured in a 10 week-old human foetus) designed to draw essential oxygen from the air we breathe. Any errors in this branching pattern can spell disaster, such as pulmonary hypoplasia, a serious condition that can be fatal for young people. To understand how the body builds the branching network, a study disabled a protein called Rac1, which was thought to control the signals that steer proper network development. Without it, signal failure prevented the lung’s branching structure forming, confirming an important detail in the biology of their creation.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.