A Doppler effect in embryonic pattern formation

Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 222-225
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253089

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Observing an embryonic Doppler effect

The sound of an oncoming train changes as it passes you, a phenomenon termed the Doppler effect. Soroldoni et al. propose a similar event during the formation of vertebrate embryo body segments. It is generally thought that the internal timing of a genetic oscillator called the “segmentation clock” sets the rhythm of body segments called somites. However, time-lapse microscopy of the spatial waves of oscillations and the timing of body segment formation showed segments forming faster than spatial genetic oscillations. This “Doppler effect” occurs because the end of the oscillating tissue moves steadily into the oncoming waves. Thus, the rhythm of sequential body segmentation is a function of genetic oscillations, their changing wave pattern, and tissue shortening.

Science, this issue p. 222


During embryonic development, temporal and spatial cues are coordinated to generate a segmented body axis. In sequentially segmenting animals, the rhythm of segmentation is reported to be controlled by the time scale of genetic oscillations that periodically trigger new segment formation. However, we present real-time measurements of genetic oscillations in zebrafish embryos showing that their time scale is not sufficient to explain the temporal period of segmentation. A second time scale, the rate of tissue shortening, contributes to the period of segmentation through a Doppler effect. This contribution is modulated by a gradual change in the oscillation profile across the tissue. We conclude that the rhythm of segmentation is an emergent property controlled by the time scale of genetic oscillations, the change of oscillation profile, and tissue shortening.

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