Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Faulty Plumbing
21 September 2014

Faulty Plumbing

We need perfect plumbing to carry blood, food, air and waste products to the right places in our body. How our tubes remain the right length when we’re changing shape as we grow is a puzzle that we’re just beginning to understand. In a recent study of fruit fly embryos, some were found to have a trachea [windpipe], that had grown too long, causing the kinks and bends we see in this highly magnified, false-coloured picture. Scientists discovered that a faulty gene had disturbed a natural balance between two forces – the growth of the membrane lining the inner surface of the trachea, which tends to stretch it lengthways, and resistance to this stretching action from the extracellular matrix, the springy structure between cells. The gradual adjustment of these balancing forces is believed to be how nature ‘precision engineers’ our tubes so that they grow with our bodies.

Written by Mick Warwicker

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