At some point, all of us, including yourself started off as a single fertilized egg. You are probably familiar with the entire process. It only takes about 24 hours for a sperm to fertilize an egg. At the moment of fertilization, the baby’s genetic makeup is complete. Then, the cells start to divide, then there’s implantation, and the baby begins to develop.
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However, this process is much more complicated being described as a complex choreography of cellular growth, a process that leads to us becoming a human filled with countless cells. In the world of developmental biology, fully understanding this complex process is a major goal for researchers at the California Institute of Technology.
In a recent study completed in the laboratory of Angelike Stathopoulos, professor of biology, and published in the journal Cell Reports, the California Institute of Technology researchers identified two proteins that act like conductors in an orchestra guiding and leading the entire early development process.
Researchers looked at Drosophila melanogaster or the common fruit fly during their study. Though it seems a little odd to be looking at a fly, the common fruit fly is commonly used as a model organism to gain better conceptual knowledge of the biology that underlies our development.
The study centered around the question, “How does an embryonic fruit fly's cells make decisions about which genes to express at the right times in order to develop into the right body parts?”
This is where the symphony analogy comes into play. Using Drosophila melanogaster as an example, every cell in a fly has the same copy of the fly's genome. Individual cells express genes differently over time. The ability of cells to develop specialized functions centers around the regulation of gene expression.
As for the analogy, every musician (or cell in this case) receives the same score for their performance, yet each musician plays a very specific role.
Stathopoulos further described the importance of the research by stating, "Embryos develop quickly, and gene expression is dynamic. Therefore, it is important to understand how development proceeds over time.”
“In the past, we've taken a static view, focusing on fixed embryos, but now we have the exciting capability to look at development live by taking movies. This allows us to uncover new insights, including how transcription factors work overtime. More than half of the genes in a fruit fly also work in humans, so understanding how a simple fruit fly develops is very relevant to us”.
Researchers at the lab used a live imaging technique to further understand this development process and the conductors that are responsible for the development of human life.