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Explorations in Science and Technology

Understanding How Life Develops


To better understand what causes congenital defects in the heart and musculoskeletal system, Pitt biology professors are studying life as it develops in the womb.

Developmental biology chair Cecilia Lo studies cell communication. During anatomical development, growth occurs in patterns: fold, turn, divide, repeat. The neural tube becomes the brain and spinal cord. Limb buds become arms.

But sometimes cells miscommunicate, affecting growth. Lo wants to know why, so she uses imaging to study mouse hearts as they develop and migrate in the chest.

Biological sciences professor Deborah Chapman focuses instead on somites, the precursors of the ribs. Somites’ failure to develop correctly can lead to birth defects like scoliosis, fusion of the ribs, and improper muscle segmentation.