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A digital atlas describing the first hours of vertebrate embryo development

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A digital atlas describing the first hours of vertebrate embryo development

Madrid, June 19, 2014.

A new computational workflow designed by researchers at Technical University of Madrid (UPM) reconstructs the genetic and cellular information of early embryogenesis

How are organs formed during embryo development? Why do cells decide to group and create the heart, or the eye, if they all look similar when dividing up from the zygote in the first moments of life? These are some of the big open questions still puzzling biologists nowadays.

The development of new imaging technologies -such as multiphoton fluorescence microscopy- and labeling protocols -such as in situ hybridization- has recently allowed to record these events for the first time in zebrafish embryos, an animal model for vertebrate development. "Now we have images where different gene expressions are clearly visible with cellular resolution, this opens an unprecedented opportunity to solve these open questions" says Dr. Carlos Castro-González, the UPM researcher at the Biomedical Image Technologies Laboratory that has led this project together with a team of engineers and biologists from the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), France. "However, these techniques have limitations and only a few gene expressions can be acquired each time. There was a need to develop computational tools to combine different acquisitions. This was the only possible way to gather all the information that biologists require and solve the puzzle", remarks Dr. Castro-González.

Today, these computational tools have been made publicly available to the scientific community thanks to their release at the prestigious journal Plos Computational Biology, an open-access publication that promotes high-quality research leading to new biological insights and holding the promise to be adopted by a broad community of users.

These tools have already been employed to quantify the variability in development between different individuals and to measure the characteristic gene expression profile of cells undergoing gastrulation, a process leading to the formation of the spinal cord in vertebrates. "This information is highly relevant to test the effect of new drugs and has potential applications for regenerative medicine", concludes Dr. Castro-González.

 

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