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Breathing beneath the skin

Fruit fly larval cells looking like blue lightning
Fruit fly larval cells looking like blue lightning

Reminiscent perhaps of blue lightning or a colourised MRI scan of blood vessels, this photo is actually a view of cells in a fruit fly larva, providing oxygen to its tissues.

Scientists like Daniel Rios, a visiting researcher in the Leptin Group, have a few reasons to study fruit fly larvae and their tracheal terminal cells, as these are called. This image shows three cells adjacent to one another on the top side of a larva of the fruit fly Drosophila. Part of the system that supplies oxygen to internal tissues, these cells are also a favourite genetic model to understand how genes determine cell shapes. They also form very complex branches, much like our own neurons. It’s these branches that help bring oxygen to distant parts of the larva.

The beautiful flashes of blue colour are produced by a fluorescent protein that the scientists have used to highlight another protein called actin, which plays an important role in tracheal cells. While these cells are known for forming a very predictable pattern – in pairs and always one for each segment of the larva – this image is a lateral shot, showing only one cell from each of three segments. 

In this low-resolution approach, the signal seems to come from lots of places, as cells are filled with actin. But, if the researchers use higher-resolution imaging, they can see how actin bundles organise themselves in different ways. The challenge is limiting the approach to only the tracheal cells, which requires the researchers to find the correct genomic regulatory sequence – almost like a passcode or secret combination – that allows entry into the larva to get the right cells to shine.

Credit: Daniel Rios/EMBL

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Tags: cells, Fruit fly, genes, Genetics

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