Scientists long have marveled at how bud-like colonies of embryonic cells form in the first weeks of pregnancy near the primitive mouth and, in communication with adjacent tissue, churn out a highly specialized work force of derivative cells. These cells make up the bone, cartilage, ligament, nerve, and soft tissue that parents will recognize several months later on their first sonogram as their baby's head.
But between the first embryonic cells and the first sonogram, profound developmental questions persist. On the molecular level at which nature works, scientists have lacked a comprehensive parts list of the genes and proteins that drive these embryonic cells to do great things. They also need a better handle on the cellular dynamics that drive the process of tissue formation. This includes primarily the communal crosstalk among dividing cells that prompt them to migrate, populate, and settle into compartments, and synchronize their self assembly into intricate, three-dimensional patterns as dissimilar as a salivary gland and the temporal bone of the skull.
On a macro level, researchers confront equally profound questions. Why does each tissue and structure of the human face form in exactly the right place? How do they orchestrate their three-dimensional growth and then integrate seamlessly into a single composite structure that is the human head?
Historically, it fell to individual research laboratories, particularly those interested in genetics and developmental biology, to try to answer these questions. These labs have made remarkable progress; but, as time and science have marched ahead, it's become clear that to answer such profound questions, scientists must better coordinate their efforts and draw o
|Contact: Bob Kuska|
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research