tufts universitytufts magazine issue homepage
contact us back issues related links
featuresthink tankplanet tufts Our Man in Madrid Urban Riff on Johnny Appleseed Next Stop: Nollywood Paid to Laugh New Arrival Findings i.m.h.o. Dan Pat Elephoto 14 Brilliant! Laurels The Great Professors newswire the big day departments
Photo: iStock


Electric Frog

Dany Adams recently had an eerie encounter with a frog embryo: she witnessed a blueprint of the frog’s face forming even before any actual features developed. Using special dyes, Adams, a research associate professor in Tufts’ Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, invented a technique that can mark embryonic cells just as they are starting to change into more specialized types, like skin or nerve cells. In the process, a series of ghostly images appears on the embryo, showing places where physical features—like the eyes and mouth—will eventually form. “Before the frog gets a face, a pattern for that face lights up on the surface of the embryo,” says Adams. “It’s a jaw dropper.”

Adams says that these newly specialized cells take on a negative electrical charge before they change function, which shows that electricity may play a role in how cells develop. It’s possible, she says, that bioelectric events trigger certain sets of genes to activate, eventually creating an eye, nose, or other body part.

Besides helping biologists gain a better understanding of cell development, Adams’s technique may have a use in medicine: Says Laura Vandenberg, a postdoc who worked on Adams’s team as a student, “If we can see places on an embryo where birth defects are about to take shape, we might be able to fix them before they occur.” The pair recently published their findings in the journal Developmental Dynamics. Time-lapse footage of the frog embryo is at bit.ly/frog_embryo. —DAVID LEVIN

  © 2011 Tufts University Tufts Publications, 80 George St., Medford, MA 02155