Friday, April 17, 2009

the wonder of embryogenesis

As a graduate student studying developmental biology* I try to understand how certain processes happen in the zebrafish embryo. When I started graduate school I wanted to study the genetics of cancer. However I quickly realized that a majority of this type of research involves giving cancer to mice (this is an overly simplified view). I didn't want to spend several years killing and cutting up mice so I explored other options. The first time I looked at a chick embryo under the microscope, I was sure that this was what I wanted to study. Watching an embryo develop over time, from a clump of cells to a living thing with functional organs felt like I was getting a peak into something miraculous. The cells knew what to do, they were following some sort of internal program that made the embryo develop the same way everytime. I really wanted to know more about the program driving this development. Initially my project was studying chick embryos, but about a year and a half ago I switched over to zebrafish. Their embryos are transparent and the whole process can be observed. The video below shows the first 24 hours of zebrafish development.

*developmental biology is the study of how a multicellular organism develops from its early immature form (embryo) into an adult. This is different from embryology, because developmental biology examines the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate the development of the embryo, while embryology looks at the structure and morphology of the developing embryo; it is based more on observation rather than experimentation.

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