Scientists are tracking stem cells on their way to becoming tissues and organs to learn how genes and molecules direct the process and which forces are at play.
They looked at one group of stem cells, called endoderm cells, in developing chicks. These stem cells begin as a flat sheet on the embryo’s surface and move toward its center as the bird develops. En route, they form the hollow gut tube that eventually becomes the lining of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
Focusing on the hindgut, which gives rise to parts of the small and large intestines and the colon, the scientists tracked endoderm cells’ motion over time. The study, published in Nature on January 16, reveals that the hindgut forms in response to a mass migration of endoderm cells triggered by chemical signals and physical forces.
N.L. Nerurkar et al., “Molecular control of macroscopic forces drives formation of the vertebrate hindgut,” Nature, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0865-9, 2019.