This is how an embryo develops in the body, captured with a new microscopic technology.

The microscopic world has a lot more hidden stuff than what the unaided human eye can see; but as usual, science gives us a promising hope for visualizing the inevitable world of microscopy. New frontier technology has led to some amazing discoveries — inseminating gametes making sparks of light upon conception, bacteria harpooning DNA, and so much more. Now, scientists have witnessed the development of an embryo at the cellular level for the very first time. This discovery isn’t just cool, but also a breakthrough in our knowledge of biological development.

Related media: Building A Baby: The First Two Weeks

The Vision Of Microscopy

Recently, new technology has led to some really incredible discoveries — such as being able to grow organs in the lab, or fix issues in developing fetuses. But there is a small catch: The problem is that we don’t exactly know what we’re doing — not entirely. Though scientists still have a long way to go with microbiology, yet its not late to figure out precisely how organs form in nature. If they knew where growing cells went and which genes turned on in the development of a liver, a brain, or a whole animal, they might be able to recreate these organs in the laboratory.

In a new study, scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, used a new microscopic technology to witness the unprecedented view of how mammals are built, cell by cell — the Holy Grail of microbiology. A light sheet microscope with the aid of an ultra-thin laser was used to illuminate parts of a specimen of an embryo while cameras record footage of those lit-up parts as it underwent meiosis. In previous iterations, the device was able to captured detailed portraits of living zebra fish and fruit fly embryos as they developed. 

Scientists used a new-and-improved version to monitor the development larger, more complex organism: The mouse. The algorithms in the microscope kept track of  6-day-old mouse embryos in real time, roughly over a 48-hour period, keeping the device focused on the cell clusters as they developed. A suite of computer programs used the data — about a million images per embryo — to map the life history of each embryo’s cellular development. Here’s the results: dazzling views of mouse organs taking shape.

Image: Albilad / Microscopic imagery of mice embryo developing stage by stage.

Seeing Embryonic Development

As an embryo rapidly expands in size, the gut starts to form when part of the embryo collapses into a crater-like hole. And a structure that eventually forms the brain and spinal cord, called a neural tube, appears like a comet shooting across the night sky. Researchers also captured the first beats of heart cells.

“These are processes no one has been able to watch before,” Kate McDole, a developmental biologist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, and the study’s led author, said. Seeing the gut form in minutes was stunning. “We never expected it to be that fast or that dramatic. It’s not like you can Google these things.”

Scientists used a new laser-powered microscope to peek inside a growing mouse embryo (shown in false color in the first clip). Over two days, the team saw the formation of the mouse’s gut (dark blue hole that appears in the developing embryo) and neural tube (white line), which becomes the brain and spinal cord. Probing deeper into the embryo revealed newly developed heart cells’ first rhythmic beats (second clip).

The Future Of Microscopic Science

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus | Artist concept of cellular mitosis.

[The field of tissue engineering has long been fraught with hope and hype. For the past several decades, laboratory scientists have pursued the ambitious goal of growing new organs and tissues — a heart, say, or a piece of spinal cord — that a surgeon could transplant into a patient. This capability could potentially solve the chronic shortage of donor organs while offering physicians new ways of treating patients with diseased and damaged tissues, such as knees or hips ravaged by arthritis. Easier said than done.]

Such imaging technology may help resolve a long-standing mystery: how mammals develop from single cells to fully formed multicellular embryos. That information is crucial for scientists attempting to grow human organs, or fix defects that arise in embryos during pregnancy, McDole says.

“If you took all the building materials for a house and threw them in a pile, you don’t magically get a house. Contractors use plans to build the house,” she says. The same thing applies to human health; she continues, “being able to see how embryos actually make organs is a huge step forward.”

Read more facts like this one in your inbox. Sign up for our daily email here.

The Factionary is ever ready to provide you with more interesting content for your reading pleasure. If you’re amazed by our work, you can support us on Patreon by a donation fee of your choice. Thank you!

Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Feb 12, 2019.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.