Imagine sitting in space and looking at Earth through a telescope. You narrow in on one lake in North Dakota that contains 15,000 fish. Your job is to track the movements of each fish for an entire day. Sounds like an impossibility, doesn't it?
However, at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory [EMBL], researchers there have accomplished just this, using a newly developed a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Microscope and a large-scale computing pipeline located at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
Well, not exactly, but for the first time researchers have followed the growth of each cell in a zebrafish embryo as it grew from one to 20,000 cells strong.
By taking over 400,000 images per embryo, researchers can locate each cell's movement as it comes into existence. As researcher Jochen Wittbrodt points out, "The digital embryo is like Google Earth™ for embryonic development. It gives an overview of everything that happens in the first 24 hours and allows you to zoom in on all cellular and even subcellular details."
As research continues and this technique is used on other vertebrates, science's fundamental knowledge of embryonic development and evolution will be expanded and challenged.
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