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Computer modelling and image analysis shows chemical and mechanical signals underlying tissue patterning

18 April 2022

Picking Out Patterns

Often practical as well as pretty, how do nature’s patterns form? The developing retina inside a fruit fly (Drosophila) eye is studded with photoreceptors, gathering light from the outside world. It acts like a bed of sensors to capture a complete image, so it’s essential that clusters of photoreceptors, known as ommatidia, are evenly spaced in a grid-like pattern. Here researchers use image analysis and computer modelling to show how ommatidia develop in consecutive columns (highlighted in the same colour) – a mixture of mechanical and chemical signals from cells in a previous column coaxes the next line of ommatidia cells to form in the gaps like polka dots. Gradually a wave of development patterns the retina, like curtains being printed (although 10000 times smaller). These simulating techniques could now be used to study patterns in early human tissues, or to predict how pattern-painting morphogenesis may go awry during development.

Written by John Ankers

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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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