Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The simple truth: Animal development not as complicated as it seems


Professor Ricardo Azevedo’s research on the simplicity of cell lineages explained in Nature magazine

Shedding light upon evolution, a University of Houston professor studying cell lineages now finds surprising simplicity in the logic of animal development. Ricardo Azevedo, an assistant professor in the department of biology and biochemistry, specializes in how evolution changes the way animals develop. His recent findings using computational biology to reveal the surprisingly simple patterns of cell division in the embryos of small invertebrates is described in a paper titled "The Simplicity of Metazoan Cell Lineages," appearing in the current issue of Nature, the weekly scientific journal for biological and physical sciences research.

"The significance of my findings is that these cell lineages are not as complicated as many scientists have thus far believed," Azevedo said. "Our hope is that our approach of treating development as a computer program will help developmental biologists to analyze their favorite organisms."

Since we now understand much about how genes evolve, the attention of biologists like Azevedo has shifted toward elucidating the evolution of developmental mechanisms in the hope of unraveling how evolution modifies more complicated and, therefore, more interesting traits like body size, aging or behavior.

Azevedo and his colleagues constructed an algorithm to contrast the developmental complexity of different organisms based on their sequences of cell divisions, known in the trade as cell lineages. They compared the known cell lineages of three different nematode worms and a sea squirt with those randomly generated by a computer program. They found that the real embryos did not behave like the computer-generated ones, but instead showed that these organisms took fewer "different steps" to fully mature than predicted by chance. In other words, the development of these animals is simpler than it looks.

"It’s particularly noteworthy that all four organisms showed the same pattern," Azevedo said. "The sea squirt, a chordate, has a general body plan similar – albeit simplified – to that of humans, while the nematode worms are more distant relatives of ours. Yet, they have all evolved toward a similar level of developmental complexity."

This type of consistency, says Azevedo, may not only impact developmental biology, but also medicine. With humans being made up of trillions of cells, cell lineage analysis has been slower to catch on when compared to the study of the large groups of cells we call organs, such as the liver and the brain. However, research into cancer and stem cells has focused our interest on the behavior of individual cells. The hope is that cell lineage analysis will become more important in the future.

For a copy of the article, visit

An evolutionary biologist who joined the UH faculty in 2003, Azevedo received his undergraduate training at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, followed by his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He conducted his postdoctoral research at Imperial College in London and at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Lisa Merkl | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>