We start life as a single cell – a fertilised egg – that divides many times to make billions. These cells specialise and organise themselves to create the complex structures of a baby’s body as it grows in the womb. It’s difficult to study this incredible feat of biological engineering in human development, so researchers have turned to a simpler laboratory system: tiny nematode worms known as C. elegans. The tube that forms a worm’s gut is made from just 20 cells, which all originally come from a single progenitor. Using a high-powered microscope, scientists are able to watch the gut cells growing and organising themselves in real time (top), allowing them to recreate a computer model of the process (bottom). Each individual cell is highlighted in a different colour, revealing that just like the shifting blocks in a Rubik’s cube, the cells shuffle and switch around before finally ‘clicking’ into place.
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.