Indian-origin scientist Hari Shroff, head of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) research team, has developed a new, open-source 3D software that can keep track of embryonic development and determine how neuronal cells traverse through the body of a worm during brain formation. The software has now been made available to scientists.
While scientists had already established several key proteins that determine the neurons’ motion while the brain is yet to fully develop, how the proteins interact in a living cell during this stage has remained somewhat of a mystery to them. Hari explains that this understanding of how neurons form and studying the path they traverse to reach their ultimate destination could provide them with valuable information on how proteins and other molecular factors interact during neuronal development.
This new technology shall play a crucial role in their project to create a 4D neuro-developmental “worm atlas” attempting to catalogue the genesis of the worm’s nervous system. This catalogue would be the first comprehensive study of how an entire nervous system develops, and may even hold key to how all nervous systems, including that of humans, assemble. The scientists remain hopeful that by using the concepts developed in this study, like say the approach taken to combine neuronal data from multiple embryos, can further be applied to additional model organisms other than the worm.
Hari informed that they are yet to understand neuro-development even in the context of the small worm, but are still employing it as a simple model of how these factors mix together to drive the development of the worm brain and neural structure. By doing so, the scientists hope translate some of the derived lessons all the way up to humans.
The worm in study is known as C elegans and has just 302 neurons, 222 of which formed in the embryonic stage itself. This worm features a similar set of proteins which are used to direct brain formation in more complex organisms like flies, mice, or humans.