Beautiful Science

IMAGE COURTESY OF THE LAB OF DR NICOLAS PLACHTA, IMCB, A*STAR

Scientists at Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) have discovered how mammalian cells build their internal skeletons during the earliest stages of life. Every cell in the body has an internal skeleton, made of hundreds of fibres called microtubules.

Microtubules grow from a region of the cell known as the centrosome. But in the early stages of embryonic development, cells lack centrosomes; so it has long been a mystery how cells begin to build their skeletons during the earliest stages of life.

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) researchers have discovered a structure inside cells from which microtubules emanate. This newly discovered structure called the "microtubule organising centre", seen here as a bridge-like structure connecting a pair of cells, acts as the centrosome of the cell before its formation.

This image of a live mouse embryo at the eight-cell stage of development was imaged in real time using laser-scanning microscopes. Microtubule filaments that form the skeleton of the cells are marked in blue, and the nucleus of each cell in orange.

The image also shows two newly-discovered "microtubule organising centres", prominent bridge-like structures responsible for the formation of cell skeletons during early embryonic development.

The research team, led by Dr Nicolas Plachta at IMCB, believes this discovery will form the basis for new methods to monitor the development of human embryos used in assisted reproduction, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis - a procedure used to help identify genetic defects within embryos before they are implanted.

The IMCB findings were published in leading scientific journal Science last month. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2017, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe