A team of Forsyth Institute scientists, led by Michael Levin, PhD, Director of the Forsyth Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, examined the molecular and genetic factors that control left/right asymmetry and identified a novel component: an ion transporter that creates strong natural voltage gradients and pH changes. The pump that normally acidifies subcellular compartments was shown to control embryonic laterality at very early stages. Their findings further challenged the previously held hypothesis that cilia (short hair-like structures on a cell) were the primary agents allowing an embryo to correctly position its internal organs along the left-right axis. Instead, their research showed a single asymmetry mechanism linking ciliary, serotonergic (serotonin is the chemical substance involved in transmitting signals between neurons), and ion flow mechanisms. The data was strengthened by the operation of this mechanism through all three vertebrates. This is important because prior data was very fragmented and different asymmetry-controlling systems appeared to be operating in frog/chick embryos vs. human/mouse/zebrafish embryos.
"In our previous research we showed that this developmental event happens earlier than expected in frogs by identifying an ion transporter that generates na
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