Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have generated a digital zebrafish embryo - the first complete developmental blueprint of a vertebrate. With a newly developed microscope scientists could for the first time track all cells for the first 24 hours in the life of a zebrafish. The data was reconstructed into a three-dimensional, digital representation of the embryo. The study, published in the current online issue of Science, grants many new insights into embryonic development. Movies of the digital embryo and the underlying database of millions of cell positions, divisions and tracks will be made publicly available to provide a novel resource for research and scientific training.
To get from one cell to a complex organism, cells have to divide, travel around the body and arrange intricate shapes and specialized tissues. The best way to understand these dynamic processes is to look at what happens in the first few hours of life in every part of an embryo. While this is possible with invertebrates with a few hundred cells, like worms for example, it has so far been impossible to achieve for vertebrates.
"Imagine following all inhabitants of a town over the course of one day using a telescope in space. This comes close to tracking the 10 thousands of cells that make up a vertebrate embryo only that the cells move in three dimensions," says Philipp Keller. Together with Annette Schmidt he carried out the research in the labs of Jochen Wittbrodt and Ernst Stelzer at EMBL.
Two newly developed technologies were key to the scientists' interdisciplinary approach to tracking a living zebrafish embryo from the single cell stage to 20,000 cells: a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Microscope, that scans a living organism with a sheet of light along many different directions so that the computer can assemble a complete 3D image, and a large-scale computing pipeline operated at the Karlsruhe Institute of Te
|Contact: Anna-Lynn Wegener|
European Molecular Biology Laboratory