Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: Development in Exquisite Detail

Credit: Shachi Bhatt and Paul Trainor, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO

If you’ve ever tried to take photos of wiggly kids, you know that it usually takes several attempts before you get the perfect shot. It’s often the same for biomedical researchers when taking images with microscopes because there are so many variables—from sample preparation to instrument calibration—to take into account. Still, there are always exceptions where everything comes together just right, and you are looking at one of them! On her first try at using a confocal microscope to image this cross-section of a mouse embryo’s torso, postdoc Shachi Bhatt captured a gem of an image that sheds new light on mammalian development.

Bhatt, who works in the NIH-supported lab of Paul Trainor at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, MO, produced this micrograph as part of a quest to understand the striking parallels seen between the development of the nervous system and the vascular system in mammals. Fluorescent markers were used to label proteins uniquely expressed in each type of tissue: reddish-orange delineates developing nerve cells; gray highlights developing blood vessels; and yellow shows where the nerve cells and blood vessels overlap.

While this award-winning image from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2015 BioArt competition is focused on the torso, the Trainor lab’s main area of interest is development of the head and face. During their ongoing search for genes expressed in craniofacial development, Bhatt and her colleagues came across a gene that encodes a protein, called Med23, that plugs into a main developmental circuit that maintains needed patterns of gene expression.

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.