Key control mechanism allows cells to form tissues and anatomical structures in the developing embryo

Sticking together
Determination of neural progenitor cell-cell de-adhesion forces using micropipette aspiration. Credit: IST Austria

Under a microscope, the first few hours of every multicellular organism’s life seem incongruously chaotic. After fertilization, a once tranquil single-celled egg divides again and again, quickly becoming a visually tumultuous mosh pit of cells jockeying for position inside the rapidly growing embryo.

Yet, amid this apparent pandemonium, cells begin to self-organize. Soon, spatial patterns emerge, serving as the foundation for the construction of tissues, organs and elaborate anatomical structures from brains to toes and everything in between. For decades, scientists have intensively studied this process, called morphogenesis, but it remains in many ways enigmatic.

Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria have discovered a key control mechanism that cells use to self-organize in early embryonic development. The findings, published in Science on Oct. 2, shed light on a

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