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Bio-imaging system spawns new theories of evolution

Saturday, October 05, 2013 - 02:21

Oct. 7 - A pioneering bio-imaging system designed by British researchers is allowing unrivaled monitoring of hundreds of aquatic embryos simultaneously and could alter scientific thinking on heredity and evolution. Jim Drury reports.

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Timelapse videos of aquatic snail embryos are challenging established thinking on how heredity affects key developmental milestones within species. The images were recorded at Plymouth University's Marine Biological and Ecology Research Centre, using a pioneering bio-imaging device. Devised by researcher Oli Tills, it contains a lens that magnifies up to 10,000 times, allowing constant analysis of hundreds of growing embryos. SOUNDBITE (English) OLI TILLS, BIO IMAGING PROJECT LEAD AT PLYMOUTH UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We can visualise 384 embryos and we can see the entire depth of the embryo and we can see how the organs are developing and how the various functions in the animal, such as the heartbeat, are functioning......The heart's a really interesting feature for us to study because it's very variable." Aquatic snails develop inside a transparent egg capsule, so through bio-imaging their entire development could be viewed uninvasively. Scientists have long thought the altered timing of developmental events between different species could be a driver of evolutionary change. But previous studies assumed that variation within a species was negligible. Professor John Spicer says his team's research challenges this. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JOHN SPICER, OF PLYMOUTH UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "If you take a population, do all the individuals put themselves together in the same way and at the same rate? And what we've found is that they don't, there's lots of variation. Some individuals go this way, other individuals go that (the other) way, but more than that, the important part of our research is the fact that those differences in timing get passed on to the next generation. Therefore those species differences could actually have their origin in differences between individuals in a population and that's quite exciting because you're linking development to evolution." Associate professor Simon Rundle says it's the first time such detailed monitoring has been possible. SOUNDBITE (English) DR SIMON RUNDLE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT PLYMOUTH UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "These kinds of functional activities haven't been visible before because a lot of embryology so far has been using still images or has actually been using histological techniques, sectioning techniques, and obviously if you're doing that you can't pick up things that are going on in real time." The team now plans to monitor the lives of the snails to see what impact early or late organ development has on their life expectancy and procreation.

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Bio-imaging system spawns new theories of evolution

Saturday, October 05, 2013 - 02:21