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Laser micro-scalpel yields biological insights into tissue dynamics

DURHAM, N.C. -- Using a laser beam scalpel so fine it could inscribe words on the surface of a fly egg, researchers have snipped their way to a new understanding of a key process in a fruit flys embryonic development. The process, called dorsal closure, is the complex mechanism by which the embryonic skin of the fruit fly Drosophila knits itself together to protect its innards from the outside world.

Understanding this seemingly arcane process is important because dorsal closure uses molecular and cellular mechanisms very similar to those involved in wound-healing as well as those that can go awry in humans to produce the spinal malformation spina bifida.

The researchers achievements were reported in an online article in the February 6, 2003, Sciencexpress -- and will appear in the April 4, 2003, print version of Science -- by an interdisciplinary Duke research team that includes biologists, physicists and a mathematician. It was this broad collaboration, said the scientists, that enabled them to refine the laser scalpel, to perform the microsurgery to dissect the fly tissue and to model the forces involved in key developmental machinery.

Dorsal closure is a good system for studying these processes because its tractable, said lead author Shane Hutson. We only have to deal with a few different kinds of cells that are arranged in a planar fashion.

According to Hutson -- a postdoctoral fellow in Dukes Free Electron Laser Laboratory (FELL) -- dorsal closure involves the interplay of forces among three kinds of tissues in the fly embryo, which is smaller than a grain of rice. The amnioserosa cells form an inner sheet of tissue involved in knitting the closure; the lateral epidermis is the tissue layer that ultimately forms the flys outer covering; and in between these two tissues is a group of leading edge cells that form a purse-string structure that somehow tightens to contribute to closure.

As closure proceeds, the cells of
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
27-Mar-2003


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