Scientists recently identified the gene that instructs certain cells to develop hairlike structures called multiple cilia, which move mucus out of the lungs to prevent infection. Christopher Kintner
and his team at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies made this discovery working with Xenopus laevis
(African clawed frog) embryos. The scanning electric microscope image above, magnified at 7,000 times actual size, shows the gray surface of embryonic cells, which sprout hundreds of pink cilia that beat in one direction to push fluids along. These multiciliated cells form on the outside of the frog embryos, making the cells easy to study.
Kintner says this research is a step toward a better understanding of how cilia form and function. His finding, which appears in the January 8 online issue of Nature Cell Biology
, may be an important tool for creating multiciliate cells from embryonic stem cells. "In the lung, multiciliate cells are [of] major importance to cell population, and knowing how to generate these cells is the basis for producing the methods and therapies for tissue regeneration," Kintner says. (Scientific American
is part of Nature Publishing Group.)