This article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
As an animal develops from an embryo, its cells take diverse paths, eventually forming different body parts — muscles, bones, heart. The cells are following a genetic blueprint, which consists of complex webs of interacting genes called gene regulatory networks.
Biologists at the California Institute of Technology have for the first time built a computational model of one of these networks. Their work is based on roughly a decade of research into how gene networks control development in sea-urchin embryos.
The scientists say the model is remarkably good at calculating what sea-urchin gene regulatory networks do to control the fates of different cells in the early stages of development. The model confirms that the interactions among a few dozen genes suffice to tell an embryo how to start developing different body parts in the right places. The model provides a powerful new way to look at gene regulatory networks, allowing scientists to better study the genetic bases of both development and evolution.
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