IMAGES: Going Through Stages

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Science  11 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5617, pp. 223
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5617.223a

The first 2 months of pregnancy are when a human embryo takes shape. The Virtual Human Embryo project at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge is creating a digital atlas for each of the 23 stages of this formative period. Each atlas is a database featuring computer-processed images of sectioned embryos from the Carnegie Collection, amassed over the last 115 years by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.

The Web site provides working databases for two stages, 10 and 12. You can summon 3D reconstructions of the delicate embryos, flip through cross-sections, and study labeled structures. Above, developing blocks of muscle are visible along the back of this stage-10 embryo. Three completed databases can be ordered on CD or DVD for the cost of shipping, and the team plans to make all 23 available online as they are finished over the next 4 years. One objective is to encourage researchers to reexamine human embryology, says co-principal investigator John Cork. Much of what's in the textbooks was extrapolated from animals and is sometimes wrong, he says.

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