Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Mapping the fate of cells as an embryo develops

29 January 2019

Following Fate

You may be the master of your own fate, but for your cells, destiny is predetermined. In the first stages of life, the embryo morphs from a blob of similar cells to increasingly distinct groups. One such group, known as neuromesodermal progenitors, ultimately forms the spinal cord and the paraxial mesoderm – crucial tissue along the midline of the embryo. Understanding this transformation is important, since small errors at this stage can be fatal to human development, so researchers observe the process in animals for comparison. Recent evidence had suggested significant differences between zebrafish and mice (two classic model animals), so the team tracked the precise movement of different cell groups in a zebrafish embryo (one such observation pictured). Mapping the fate of particular cells showed that although their trajectories are alike across species, the intricate timing of their behaviour varies – an important consideration when extrapolating findings from animal experiments to humans.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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