Gene Scenes; August 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Trisha Gura; 1 Page(s)
CLEVELAND-Imagine that you are an alien commissioned to decipher a football game. Equipped with nothing more than a Polaroid camera and a truckload of film, could you accurately explain the sporting event given that, to your otherworldly sensibilities, the halftime show carries just as much importance as the kickoff? That scenario depicts the challenge facing researchers who track cells during the development of embryos and tumors. Outfitted with scalpels and microscopes, investigators must try to explain the workings of biology by killing embryos or removing tissue samples, fixing them on slides and piecing together the "snapshots" taken over time. And there is no way to tell what is meaningful to the game and what is halftime fluff.
Chemist Thomas J. Meade and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology may have found the engineering equivalent of a video camera and an on-field microphone. This past May at a National Academy of Engineering meeting in Cleveland, Meade unrolled stunning videos of frog embryos unfolding from egg to tadpole stages. With unprecedented detail and cellular-level resolution, the images showed the creatures' cells at work communicating with one another during development.