Building a spine — Harvard's Dr. Olivier Pourquié studies embryo clockwork

Megan Wood -   Print  |

Boston-based Harvard Medical School genetics professor Olivier Pourquié, PhD, and his team created an analyzed a cell model that forms the spine.

Cell published the paper.


Here are seven insights:


1. Two decades ago, Dr. Pourquié's lab discovered that a "segmentation clock" creates a repetitive arrangement in developing embryos. With every tick of the clock, a vertebra begins forming from these embryos.


2. Dr. Pourquié's team turned to mouse cells to reconstruct this clockwork in a petri dish.


3. The experiment revealed the intricacies of vertebrate development as well as how defects form, such as scoliosis.


4. The segmentation clock is dormant in the individual embryos until the cells reach a critical mass. Then, all the clocks activate simultaneously.


5. Two signals — Notch and Yap — control the clock. Notch jumpstarts the "cellular oscillations that release instructions to build structures that will ultimately become vertebrae." The Yap signal controls the necessary Notch amount for segmentation clock activation.


6. Dr. Pourquié explains: "If you stimulate the system a little, nothing happens. But if you stimulate it a little more and cross the threshold, then the system has a very strong response."


7. With this experiment, Dr. Pourquié and his team now possess a solid theoretical framework to understanding the clockwork of these cellular oscillations that form the spine.


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