Friday, November 16, 2007

The First Moments of Life

Help from the fruit fly.

A three-hour-old fruit fly embryo

Age-old question pushes scientists to step beyond their fields — into each other’s
By Chad Boutin

For the past five years, a quartet of Princeton researchers has [been] trying to resolve a tricky and timeworn issue about the first moments of life by examining the fruit fly.

Eric Wieschaus (top, left) brought his lifetime of experience with the embryo to the physics lab, where William Bialek’s (top, right) mathematical analysis and David Tank’s (bottom, left) imaging techniques proved invaluable in revealing how the embryo’s cells determine their ultimate function in the adult fly. By absorbing lessons from all three scientists, Thomas Gregor (bottom, right) was able to render the embryo’s cellular nuclei visible to microscopes and open to quantitative analysis — earning himself a Ph.D. in the process. Gregor is now a researcher at the University of Tokyo.

The information the team obtained is now public knowledge; it recently netted them an unusual two papers in the journal Cell — one for the discovery, and another detailing the techniques they used to obtain it.

To read about what they discovered and how, click here.

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