Greater understanding of how embryos take shape
In the earliest days of development, gastrulation separates embryonic cells into distinct layers destined to become different tissues and organs. Watching this early mouse embryo under a high-powered microscope, scientists study how the endoderm layer (highlighted in green) develops separately from the mesoderm (red). They know the mesoderm forms when epithelial cells lining the embryo reprogram themselves, switching on specific genes in a process called epithelial–mesenchymal transition. Textbooks have it that something similar happens to the endoderm. Challenging this, the scientists find that some epithelial cells can change their shape – their morphology – then migrate to become part of the endoderm, while making molecules to stop themselves from becoming part of the mesoderm. This discovery may reveal ways to help embryos during development, or perhaps block similar shapeshifting employed by migrating cancer cells.
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