New imaging techniques have enabled scientists to watch and study as a living organism develops, and the cells divide and align.
At the Biozentrum at the University of Basel in Switzerland, scientists are adapting these imaging techniques to study the development of blood vessels in zebra fish. This research is part of a European project called “Cells into Organs” funded by the European Commission. Zebra fish embryos are ideal for studying the formation of new blood vessels because they are naturally transparent, and many embryos can be collected every day. In order to make the development of blood vessels visible, the fish eggs are injected with special DNA molecules to make the blood cells fluorescent. Once the eggs divide and become embryos, they are placed under a microscope equipped with a laser. So as soon as the first fluorescent blood cells are formed, the researchers can watch their development inside the embryo. In this way, scientists have created unique images to show how cells turn into organs. Professor Markus Affolter said “Our discovery was that the blood vessel cells are not floating along on their own but they seem to group and interact with each other.” The embryo of the zebra fish may look different from a human embryo but its genes and the way they determine growth is very similar. This research has provided a new vision, a new perspective about the development of blood cells and organs, but eventually researchers hope not only to solve developmental and evolutionary questions – but also to use this work for medical research. For more information about research at the Biozentrum see: www.biozentrum.unibas.ch