Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: The Dance of Development

Credit: Amanda L. Zacharias and John I. Murray, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

This video may look like an aerial shot of a folk dance: first a lone dancer, then two, then four, until finally dozens upon dozens of twirling orbs pack the space in a frenzy of motion. But what you’re actually viewing is an action shot of one of biology’s most valuable models for studying development: the round worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans).

Taking advantage of time-lapse technology, this video packs into 38 seconds the first 13 hours of this tiny worm’s life, showing its development from a single cell into the larval, or juvenile stage, with 558 cells. (If you are wondering why C. elegans doesn’t look very worm-like at the end of this video, it’s because the organism develops curled up inside a transparent shell—and after it breaks out of that shell, it squirms quickly away.)

Not only is this cool video among the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt competition, it shows some very cutting edge research. A team led by John Murray, an NIH-funded geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, produced this movie to study how various proteins control the fate of cells during C. elegans’ early development.

We can follow the process because the DNA inside the nucleus of each cell is tagged with green fluorescent protein. Just before a cell divides into two new cells, the DNA in its nucleus copies itself, which is why the amount of green seems to double in a bright flash.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.