Strip away an animal or human’s skin, muscles, and sinews, and you’ll see the bony skeleton underneath. Not only do our bones provide a strong three-dimensional scaffold to support the body, they enable us to move, protect our vital organs, and even help to determine the shape of the face thanks to the skull underneath. But scientists studying how bones grow are faced with a problem. Most cells in the lab grow in flat layers in plastic Petri dishes – a very different environment from the three-dimensional structures of a real skeleton. To create a more life-like system, researchers have now figured out how to cultivate bone cells in a 3D setting, like this skull bone cell (known as an osteoblast), artificially coloured red inside a grey-hued supporting matrix. Thanks to this system, the scientists can spy on bone cells as they grow, gaining important insights into how the skeleton forms.
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.