26 April 2013
The fun in science isn’t just about knowing things. It’s about the pleasure of finding things out. Although doing science can be drudgery sometimes, the pay-off can compare to the thrill of cracking a masterful crime. Few medical mysteries are harder to crack than those caused by the complicity between environmental factors and faulty genes, such as neural tube defects (NTDs) causing spina bifida when the spinal tube fails to roll-up and zip-up seamlessly (as in the amphibian NTs in the lower time-lapse images). Although pregnant women routinely take folic acid supplements to cut the likelihood of NTDs, newborns with the condition persist at 1/1000 in the developed world and several times higher elsewhere, making it one of the commonest birth defects. Genes are at the bottom of this – over 200 of them at the latest count. By a process of elimination, scientist-detectives are now painstakingly homing-in on the culprits.
Written by Tristan Farrow