An embryo is an amazing thing. From just one initial cell, an entire living, breathing body emerges, full of working cells and organs. It comes as no surprise that embryonic development is a very carefully orchestrated process—everything has to fall into the right place at the right time. Developmental and cell biologists study this very thing, unraveling the molecular cues that determine how we become human.
“One of the first, and arguably most important, steps in development is the allocation of cells into three germ layers—ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm—that give rise to all tissues and organs in the body,” explains Mark Mercola, Ph.D., professor and director of Sanford-Burnham’s Muscle Development and Regeneration Program in the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center.
In a study published November 14 in the journal Genes & Development, Mercola and his team, including postdoctoral researcher Alexandre Colas, Ph.D., and Wesley McKeithan, discovered that microRNAs play an important role in this cell- and germ layer-directing process during development.