the community site for and by developmental biologists

Map of Life: A guide to convergent evolution

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

The Map of Life is a recently published guide to convergent evolution produced by the University of Cambridge that has been touring science festivals and events across the world. It contains hundreds of article about structures and adaptations that have evolved independently in unrelated organisms such as camera eyes in jellyfish and snails to gliding[…]

March of Dimes Prize Announced

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology was jointly awarded this April to David Page, Director of the Whitehead Institute, and Patricia Ann Jacobs, professor of human genetics at Southampton University Medical School and co-director of research at the Wessex Regional Genetics Laboratory. Both Page and Jacobs specialize in research on human sex chromosomes[…]

Second cover image winner: mouse pharyngeal arch

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

Congratulations to Hozana Andrade Castillo of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, whose image of a mouse pharyngeal arch jumped from third place to first place in the last few days of voting. Her image will appear on a cover of Development in the next few months. Developing pharyngeal arch region of mouse embryo[…]

An After Thought to Evolution: Exceptional ways of Controlling Gene “Expression”

Posted by on May 3rd, 2011

More and more, the central dogma is becoming well, dogged, for being a dogma at all. As humans, we have 3 billion nucleotides. Only 1% of it makes up our protein coding genes, which led to the development of the central dogma: DNA is transcribed to RNA and translated into proteins. During undergrad, we’re taught[…]

Science – The Bigger Picture

Posted by on May 1st, 2011

This is a retelling of the student and post-doc workshop from the second day of the BSDB/BSCB joint spring meeting that took place in Canterbury at the University of Kent. The session emphasised the need for accurate science and scientific involvement in public communication. It ended up a bit longer than I’d intended, but this[…]

Rethinking X-chromosome Inactivation

Posted by on April 30th, 2011

I’ve been asked to present the back-story behind our recently published manuscript in Development “Transcription precedes loss of Xist coating and depletion of H3K27me3 during X-chromosome reprogramming in the mouse inner cell mass.” Mammalian dosage compensation occurs by silencing one X-chromosome in female cells, termed X-chromosome Inactivation (XCI).  Balancing X-linked gene transcription is critical for[…]

Stem cell patent case could have far-reaching impact

Posted by on April 28th, 2011

Last month, the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice gave his opinion on a long-running legal debate about a patent filed several years ago in Germany. If the Court follows his recommendation, patenting of applications using embryonic stem cells will be prohibited on moral grounds. 13 leaders of major stem cell projects in Europe responded to[…]

Got the Blues? How Plants Respond to Blue Light

Posted by on April 28th, 2011

Physiologically speaking of course….

As humans we can see a limited assortment of light wavelengths, known as the visible spectrum of light, a.k.a. colours. (Other wavelengths we cannot see include UV rays, X rays or infrared). Why is it that we can differentiate colours? Its likely to do with adaptation to the environment. Plants and animals have evolved different physiological responses to colours, so it’s important to discriminate between them.

As mammals we have biological clocks, or circadian rhythms that respond to light. Dark or blue light set off signalling mechanisms, which ultimately regulate the melatonin levels in our system. Melatonin is a hormone which can induce sleep, if at sufficiently high levels in our system. (Hence your doctor prescribing you melatonin if you have trouble sleeping at night. Suffice to say countless grad students are probably on this stuff right now).

Plants also have a light-sensing system, which can respond to different times of day and seasonal changes. This can determine fruit maturation and changing colour in the leaves etc. For plants, blue light has a revitalizing (instead of drowsy) effect. If you’ve ever left your plants without light for too long, they go yellow. Irradiate them with a little blue, and the green will return within a couple of days.

Interestingly, plants and animals have the same type of photoreceptors to blue light, called Cryptochromes (CRYs), even though they elicit a different response. CRYs initiate the light response, analogous to a molecular domino effect. The pigments bind specialized proteins that in turn, regulate transcription factors that can switch on the light response genes involved in development. Termed as photomorphogenesis, light dependent changes in development can include initiation of flowering, or extension of roots in germinating seeds.

Currently, characterizing the molecular interactions in plant blue-light/CRY1 response seems to be a hot topic. Two highly similar articles were just published in Genes & Development, which was drawn to my attention by Eva (cheers). They were produced by two different research crews, using virtually the same methods to similar results. It’s not by total coincidence either. Characterizing molecular interactions in plants involve the same gold standard biochemical and genetic assays (i.e. transgenic plants, yeast hybrid systems, loss-of-function mutants etc.)

(Photoreceptors = light absorbing molecules or pigments.)

Location change for BSDB Node meet-up

Posted by on April 28th, 2011

We’ve had to find a new location for Thursday’s (today’s) Node meetup at the BSDB meeting. Find us Thursday April 28 at 8PM in the Gulbenkian Cinema Cafe/Bar. This is the cafe with the big windows that you pass when you follow the footpath from Eliot Dining Hall to the Woolf College building. This happens[…]

Mapping the cardiac neural crest in the frog’s heart

Posted by on April 27th, 2011

The Node’s staff asked me to write a short “behind the scenes” on our paper just released in the May 15 issue of Development, “Cardiac neural crest is dispensable for outflow tract septation in Xenopus” In the summer of 2008 when Dr. Young-Hoon Lee joined my laboratory from Chonbuk National University for a sabbatical[…]