Brain size varies from person to person, and although its development isn't completely understood, this variation was believed to be largely due to genetics. However, a recent study on frog embryos (pictured) indicates that this may not be the case. By revisiting an idea from the early twentieth century – that bioelectric signals can affect tissue growth – it was found that the development of vital organs could actually be controlled. Cells use bioelectric signals to communicate with each other, and to coordinate their growth. The charge of these signals and the pathways they follow can be changed by adding new pathways and blocking old ones. By tweaking these signals, researchers were able to simulate rapid growth of the brain and spinal cord in frog embryos. Continuing this research could potentially lead to treatments for organ damage and certain birth defects in humans.
Written by Helen Thomas
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