An Embryonic Rainbow

How diverse cell types (heart, blood and kidney for example) arise from a single, fertilised egg remains a fundamental question in cell biology. David Grainger’s research focuses on how cells in the early mammalian embryo are signalled to form blood stem cells, which are the cells responsible for blood production across the organism’s entire lifetime. A greater understanding of the signals the progenitors of blood stem cells receive allows us to mimic these conditions in a laboratory and direct human stem cells towards the same fate. If successful, these artificially generated blood stem cells could be transplanted into patients as a cell therapy to treat human blood disorders.

In this image, a transverse section through an early mouse embryo, just 0.2 millimetres across has been illuminated through the use of a fluorescence microscope. Each small spot of colour represents a single molecule of RNA with differing colours indicating different genes. Even at these early stages, cells have already diversified into distinct types as indicated by their expression of different genes (different colours in different places in the embryo). David's research aims to identify the blood stem cell progenitors by examining the localisation of genes known to be critical for their development and subsequently discover their cellular neighbours that will be signalling to them.

David Grainger is reading for a DPhil in Medical Sciences.