Developing Cells do Synchronized Swimming Inside the Embryo

Thursday, May 2, 2019
Computer-generated vectors show the motion and speed of cell nuclei within a developing fruitfly embryo. These swirling currents keep nuclei spread out evenly and in sync to ensure they undergo the same number of divisions.(DiTalia Lab)

The very beginnings of life inside a tiny developing embryo are mesmerizing to watch. Each movement and biochemical reaction is executed with well-ordered precision about 95 percent of the time, leading to the development of a healthy organism.

When things go awry -- the other 5 percent of the time -- it can affect development later in life, resulting in diseases like muscular dystrophy and related disorders in humans.

Scientists in Duke University’s School of Medicine have come one step closer to understanding how these crucial early stages of life are executed so perfectly most of the time by watching development of the fruit fly embryo.

Unlike a human embryo, where a single cell multiplies through repeated cell divisions, the early embryo of a fruit fly starts as a football-shaped egg containing a single nucleus that divides into thousands of nuclei, all within the same cell.

Stefano Di Talia, PhD, an assistant professor in cell biology, and graduate student Victoria Deneke observed that oscillations of biochemical activity begin around the cell nuclei. These oscillations create currents that spread the nuclei into a specific formation that keeps them synchronized and allows them to undergo the same number of divisions. Previously, it was not known where these oscillations occurred and whether they had a role in controlling movements inside the embryo. The finding was published in the journal Cell on May 2.

Read complete article in Duke Today