Developmental biology has taken a step further in understanding the connection made between the placenta and fetus by testing a hypothesis that involved slowing down the growth of one limb on an animal. Scientist Alberto Roselló-Díez used laboratory raised mice to test out his hypothesis by genetically manipulating the cells of a fetus in a petri dish. He then inserted the genetically modified cells into the mouse’s back left leg. A deeper look at Díez’s work explains that he uses a “p21” suppressor which is also known as an “antiproliferative”. In doing so, Roselló-Díez is suppressing chondrocyte cells (found in cartilage) from forming, thus preventing the mouses bones from lengthening.

In response to the cellular suppression, the nature of the fetus’s growth as a whole slows down to the growth rate of the left hind leg;  putting me in the mind of the phrase- “no man left behind”. This is described to be a “compensatory mechanism”, in which the entire fetus makes up for the compromised development of the mouse to keep it’s symmetry.

You might be wondering- “how does the placenta play into this?” Apparently, the cells of the placenta systemically communicate to the tissues of the other limbs, and warn them to “SLOW DOWN!” Therefore the fetus of the mouse relies on biological signals from the mother’s placenta.

Picture by Maneesha S. Inamdar

All in all, minimizing the growth rate of limbs is intriguing because it leaves me wondering the extent of the experimental purpose. Will it be that in the future we will use the p21 suppressor on human fetuses? Will this study lead to a breakthrough for unanswered cosmetic and orthopedic phonomena? These questions are yet to be undertaken by developmental biologists and maybe even doctors.

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