Watch: an embryo on show


Microscope provides unique inside view as a new life begins. Nick Carne reports.


Embryonic mouse neural tubes, growing and folding.

Embryonic mouse neural tubes, growing and folding.

K. McDole et al./ Cell 2018

A new microscope has given scientists this front-row view of a living mouse embryo developing in glorious 4D.

Over the critical first 48 hours they were able to watch the gut form and the heart start to beat, following every embryonic cell and pinpointing where it went and what genes it turned on.

As well as technically clever and visually exciting, the show was important because it took the US researchers inside a mammal. Until now, the best views of living embryos have come from fish and flies.

The grunt work is done by a suite of algorithms that track the embryo's position and size, map how a light sheet moves through the sample then figure out how to get the best-looking images.

The result is “literally a cellular-resolution building plan of the entire mouse”, says Philipp Keller, a physicist and biologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia, US.

He and his colleagues reported their project in the journal Cell, and they're making the microscope, computational tools and imaging data publicly available free.

  1. https://www.cell.com/cell/pdf/S0092-8674(18)31243-1.pdf
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