Researchers have discovered a conserved mechanism among vertebrates that determines body segment number, according to a study published online in Nature today (June 18). The number of body segments an organism has varies greatly between species: our vertebrae, a measly thirty-three in number, hardly stack up to the 300-plus in our slithering co-vertebrates. But anatomists and embryologists have puzzled over a mechanism to explain the difference. "If you were to ask most biologists why snakes have more vertebrae than others, they might say it's likely stem cells at the posterior of the embryo proliferate longer," said linkurl:Scott Holley,; a professor of developmental biology at Yale University who was not involved in the study. "What this finding suggests is that's not the case." "It's quite a fascinating process that's fairly understudied," said linkurl:Olivier Pourquié,; a biologist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Missouri and lead author of the study....
Image courtesy of Olivier Pourquié

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