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Making a Switch

'Genetic switches' that control embryo development in the fruit fly revealed

29 January 2020

Making a Switch

Here’s a mystery: if every cell in a developing embryo has the same genes, because they all come from one fertilised egg, then how does it manage to build so many different tissues and structures? The answer lies in the genetic ‘control switches’ that turn each gene on or off at the right time and in the right place. Each gene has multiple switches, working together in various combinations to create the complex patterns of gene activity required to build an entire organism from a single cell. To understand more about what each switch does, researchers are creating fruit fly embryos with altered switch combinations. The top row of images are normal fly embryos, showing the activity patterns of certain genes, while the lower panels are embryos with manipulated switches. Careful analysis of the patterns reveals exactly which switches are responsible for activating genes in different parts of the embryo.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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