June 18 (UPI) — Scientists have developed a new technique for controlling the shape of tissue. The method uses light to control protein activity, which dictates changes in tissue shape.
Morphogenesis, the shifting of tissue shapes in an embryo, is essential to healthy development. Using optogenetics, scientists are not only able to better understand the development process, but may also be able to develop new regenerative medicine treatments.
In their latest experiments, researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, used light to replicate epithelial folding, a process during which new cells are reincorporated into into the embryo before differentiating into new types of internal tissues like muscles.
Using the optogenetics technique, scientists triggered epithelial folding among cells that aren’t typically involved in the transformation process.
“We’ve uncoupled the link between the shape and function of a cell,” EMBL researcher Stefano De Renzis said in a news release. “This allows us to, for the first time, built tissues in certain shape without affecting the cell’s expertise.”
Researchers share their breakthrough in a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature Communications.
“The great thing about using optogenetics to guide morphogenesis is that it is a very precise technique,” said lead researcher Emiliano Izquierdo. “We were able to define various shapes, and by alternating the timing and strength of illumination, we could control how far the cells folded inwards.”
Researchers conducted their experiments using fruit fly embryos, but because the morphogenesis is common among the embryos of almost all living organisms, scientists believe their technique can be used to control tissue development in a human embryo. The optogenetics technique could eventually be used to grow artificial tissues for regenerative medicine