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Princeton research: In the early life of an embryo, a monster lurks
Date:8/22/2011

lopmental timetable. The finding revealed a crucial role for the somewhat puzzling existence of the calcium wave, as well as a new level of sophistication in how embryos function.

"We didn't have to go searching for chaos, it just came right out at us," Wingreen said. "When the dust settled, it became clear that cell-cycle oscillation, while remarkably uniform in the end, does not come by that harmony on its own, especially not in anything as big as an embryo, which is much larger than a typical cell. But then the question became, if there's this potential for chaos, how does the system avoid it? It turns out that the system needs the calcium wave to avoid chaos and that wave is activated surprisingly fast."

The embryo's need for stabilization and the dual role of the calcium wave illuminates the intricacy of developing embryos, as well as the impressive ability of embryos to prevent their own destruction, said James Ferrell, a Stanford University professor of chemical and systems biology. The Princeton researchers based their work on formulas that Ferrell developed from experiments on African clawed frog embryos that describe how embryos divide and replicate in timed cycles during early development.

"One of this group's conclusions is that chaos lurks not far from where the system normally functions, like a monster in the corner, and that it matters to have synchronicity established quickly to prevent it. That's not something we had initially thought about," said Ferrell, who had no involvement in the Princeton-led research, but is interested in testing the results experimentally.

"They present a nice story of how evolution has come up with a way to do things as fast as is needed to avoid chaos, but not too much faster. It's deepened our appreciation of what is happening in the biological system, and is a good example of how theory and careful modeling can reveal functions that might not appear in experiments."

Wingree
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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