I have been enjoying an ongoing web series offered by Cambridge University entitled, "Under the Microscope". The goal of the series has been to
bring some insight to the general public concerning developments and breakthroughs in medicine and technology.
I want to link you to the entire series and I will post some of the videos here as well. But I wanted to especially point out the work that is being
done in embryology, the study of how living organisms develop after fertilization.
I am sure you are all aware to some extent, of the programs being conducted worldwide where computers, really powerful computers, are being applied to
trying to understand how proteins fold themselves in to uniquely useful shapes and how cells signal one another. For instance you might have heard
about the gamers that helped with that AIDS enzyme...
As our technology becomes increasingly more powerful, so does our grasp on and understanding of the human organism. By using these computers and
imaging systems to we are coming ever closer to actually being able to model the incredibly complex and powerful life processes that occur at the very
tiny level of the cell membrane. To put it simply: if we can model it; we can build it. Here are a couple of the videos from the series regarding
Please understand that I cannot drag the whole article over, I hope those interested will take the time to read it. The videos they have created are
unprecedented, in the short clip you will see stages in embryonic development that was previously hidden from us.
Most importantly, the movies that Professor Zernicka-Goetz’ team can now make of this critical developmental stage are revealing secrets about the
origins of clusters of extra-embryonic cells that signal where to make the head of the embryo. They have used a gene expressed only in this
“head” signalling region marked by a protein that glows to track these cells in mouse embryos living in culture.
In this way they have been able to determine that these cells originate from one or two cells at the blastocyst stage and their progeny ultimately
cluster together in a specific part of the embryo before collectively migrating to the position at which they signal head development. The cells that
lead this migration appear to have a particularly important role in leading the rest and act as pioneers.
Another one that I find incredible. It is a model of a beetle embryo that this scientist and the team he works with have created. It looks simple, but
what is seen is nothing short of incredible when you realize that they have modeled the twisting torsions of the embryo as proteins fold in to shape.
This is morphology, right before your eyes...
What's up at Tuft's
I would like to take us off course for a moment. Do you remember what happened at Tufts University last year? The bio-electric frog-face video?
I would like to add it because I believe that it will add a little depth to what is going on at Cambridge...
"Studying bioelectrical signaling has led us to a different, and broader, way of thinking about diseases like cancer, birth defects and tissue
regeneration," Adams notes. "Potentially we can find electrical switches that turn on entire developmental cascades rather than having to find many
specific tools that turn on many specific genes within that cascade, as is the current approach with gene therapy. After all, we already have tools
for regulating some of these bioelectrical signals, such as drugs that prevent acid reflux by controlling potassium and hydrogen ions."
I enjoyed the read and the videos within the thread but I cannot help but wonder as to why you believe that if we can model it we can build it and
then completely ignore the question of who built it to begin with. All of these collectives are treading dangerously close to messing with what they
have no right to mess with. Thanks for sharing.
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