A new way to visualize the development of an embryo in the first few hours of life has been demonstrated by researchers at European Molecular Biology Laboratory.
The collection of data was accomplished with a new technique that followed a zebrafish embryo as it developed from one to 20,000 cells: a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Microscope that scans a living organism with a sheet of light along many different directions so that the computer can assemble a complete 3D image. Take a look at this video made from the collected data:
(3D development of Zebrafish embryo's first 24 hours)
"Imagine following all inhabitants of a town over the course of one day using a telescope in space. This comes close to tracking the 10 thousands of cells that make up a vertebrate embryo – only that the cells move in three dimensions," says Philipp Keller. Together with Annette Schmidt he carried out the research in the labs of Jochen Wittbrodt and Ernst Stelzer at EMBL.
Joan Slonczewski explored this idea (with a slightly better - if imaginary - display) in her 1994 novel Daughter of Elysium:
The elephantine embryo loomed before him above the holostage, its triangular head folder over with two round bulging eyes. "This is the first month, a critical stage for Eyeless," Onyx explained. "As you can see, the eyes are normal with this allele."
She stepped onto the holostage. The "skin" of the embryonic form puckered as her arms entered, and she stepped inside.
(Read more at embryo visualization display)