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How the gut got its villi
"You are not just a ball of cells," says Clifford Tabin, George Jacob and Jacqueline Hazel Leder Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
The way cells organize within the human body allows us all to function the way we do, but a couple of Harvard professors are concerned as much with that developmental process as with the end result. Tabin shares a common perspective with L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, and professor of physics.
By taking steps back through embryos’ development, researchers in Mahadevan’s and Tabin’s laboratories investigated how the guts of several different animals end up as they do. Their findings, published in a recent issue of Science, reveal that the principles guiding the growth of intestinal structures called villi are surprisingly similar across chickens, frogs, mice, and snakes.
These fingerlike villi lie on the inside wall of the gut and are crucial in the uptake of nutrients from food by effectively increasing the absorptive surface area 30-fold.
Caption: The wrinkling of the inner gut, Harvard researchers found, is intimately linked to the stages of muscle layer differentiation, which produce a series of different physical stresses.
Credit: Courtesy of L. Mahadevan and Science/AAAS.