The complex communications that help cells synchronize movement - Featuring Sally Horne-Badovinac

Mar 19, 2019
By Nancy Averett

Surface view of a Drosophila egg chamber, the multicellular precursor to the egg. The follicular epithelial cells that form the egg chamber’s outer layer collectively migrate along the extracellular matrix (ECM) that surrounds the organ. This collective migration, in turn, causes the entire egg chamber to rotate within the ECM to create the elongated shape of the egg.

Sally Horne-Badovinac, PhD, was studying zebrafish to gain insight into how human intestines develop when she had ascientific epiphany. While staring through a high-powered microscope at a section of the fish’s gut tube—their version of intestines—she happened to glance at some neighboring tissue. She noticed that it had a really interesting shape — an asymmetric pattern of folds — that indicated how it was pushing the gut tube over to the left. Gut tubes in zebrafish and humans acquire bends as they develop. In humans this helps the organ to fit inside the abdomen, and Horne-Badovinac had just discovered a key aspect of that process in zebrafish. She rushed over to a white board and began sketching it out for the other trainees in the lab.

“Over the course of about 15 minutes I had formed an idea about how the entire process worked,” said Horne-Badovinac, who now has her own lab at the University of Chicago, where she’s an associate professor of molecular genetics and cell biology.

“In science they talk about the moment of discovery, right? Where you have this incredible ‘aha’ moment and it all just clicks, and that was the moment for me,” she said. “That’s really when I solidified my decision to become an academic.”