Biologists describe key mechanism in early embryo development

New York University and University of Iowa biologists have identified a key mechanism controlling early embryonic development that is critical in determining how structures such as appendages—arms and legs in humans—grow in the right place at the right time.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS Genetics, John Manak, assistant professor of biology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Chris Rushlow, a professor in NYU’s Department of Biology, write that much research has focused on the spatial regulatory networks that control early developmental processes. Less attention, they note, has been paid to how such networks can be precisely coordinated over time.

Rushlow and Manak find that a protein called Zelda turns on groups of genes essential to development in an exquisitely coordinated fashion.

The research showed that when Zelda was absent, activation of genes was delayed, thus interfering with the proper order of gene interactions and ultimately disrupting gene expression patterns. In addition, such disruption of gene expression has severe consequences for the embryo, including drastic changes in body plan such that many tissues and organs are not formed properly, if at all.

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