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

n, a theoretical biologist and associate director of Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, initiated the project when he noticed that existing cell-cycle formulas and models such as Ferrell's did not explain how embryos keep cell activity synchronized across their considerable girth. Embryos are huge, about 10 to 100 times larger than a normal cell, he said, and at that size oscillation would not necessarily fan out from the point of fertilization, as was assumed. Instead, the process would be vulnerable to any bump in the cellular road and would splinter into patches of disarray, he said.

In theory, chaos could be avoided if oscillation spread quickly enough, Wingreen said. But the cell cycle is driven by an intricate exchange of proteins with its own schedule. Wingreen doubted that this activity could spread itself across an expansive embryo fast enough, especially as the embryo grows. He wanted to take the embryo's size into account as a factor in the spread of cell activity, which no published cell-cycle models had considered.

Wingreen and the paper's lead author, Scott McIsaac, a doctoral student in Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute, altered Ferrell's cell-cycle equations so that oscillation would spread across the expanse of an embryo. They worked with co-author K.C. Huang, a Stanford assistant professor of bioengineering, to solve the revised formulas in a three-dimensional model. Co-author Anirvan Sengupta, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University, characterized and analyzed the various instabilities that might occur as the simulated embryonic cells divided.

"We had no clear idea of what adding a spatial element would produce," Wingreen said. "I was interested if there was an inhomogeneous element to cell-cycle oscillation, if the cells in fact did not all act in unison. My training is in physics, and I know that whenever you add a new dimension, interesting things can happen. I had a feel
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert

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