What your gastrointestinal tract might say about you…

As high school biology teachers often remind us, we’re more closely related to other animals than we might generally like to think. We all eventually, when traced back far enough, stem from a single ancestor. And despite our distinct and innumerable differences, just a few, significant similarities are enough for such blasphemy to begin to station in truth. One of these, found in all bilateral animals, and the subject of my investigation for the following weeks, is the presence of the transcription factor, brachyury.

In an embryo, specifically of deuterostomes like humans, the first feature to develop is the anus. The embryo then invaginates at the anus—turning itself inward—and gradually stretches towards the mouth at the other end of the embryo to form an early version of the gastrointestinal tract in a process known as gastrulation. We know that brachyury plays a critical role in this stage of embryo development, though much about the protein remains an enigma. We know where brachyury is expressed, though we do not know what processes it controls; we know that it’s presence is essential for proper development, though we do not know why that is and what causes the failures observed in its absence. My project at the McClay Lab will be to examine further these characteristic of brachyury and its role in gastrulation, to seek answers to the many questions surrounding this crucial protein, yet shrouded in mystery.

These past two weeks have been dedicated towards locating brachyury in embryos undergoing gastrulation. Knowing where it is, how it is expressed, and at which stages one may observe each pattern of expression will be the first step I take towards learning more about it. We hope that this investigation will eventually lead to a deeper understanding of gastrulation and embryo development as a whole, and unlock some of the many secrets to the complexity of our being.

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