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Counting Copies

Tracking individual cells as they divide and specialise in the developing fly brain

13 August 2020

Counting Copies

You have almost as many cells in your brain as there are stars in the Milky Way – roughly 200 billion – all of which came from a small pool of fast-dividing stem cells. In order for the brain to develop correctly as a foetus grows in the womb, not only is the number of cells important – they must also be the right types of cells in the right places. To find out more about how this happens, researchers developed a computer algorithm that can identify individual cells in living tissue (each cell is highlighted by a white spot in this image) and track what happens as they divide and specialise. Using fruit fly larvae as a simple model for humans, the researchers were able to continuously monitor developing larval brains for up to 24 hours. The results provide unprecedented insights into how complex organs like brains are built from single cells.

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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