Math instructor develops new technique to track embryonic development

How do embryos develop so reliably?

BCIT Mathematics instructor Dr. David Holloway is working on just that issue, and recently had a paper on it accepted by the Public Library of Science journal, PLOS ONE. The paper, entitled “Transcriptional bursting in Drosophila development: Stochastic dynamics of eve stripe 2 expression,” sounds – and is – complicated. Yet it addresses an area that continues to mystify scientists and doctors who seek to further our understanding of how organisms develop from eggs.

Side view of a fly embryo, lit up for the gene being studied, showing individual cells (Image: David Holloway)

While an individual’s genes are identical in all cells, during embryonic development, cells become different cell types. For instance, in the case of the fly Drosophila, which David studies, the same initial material ultimately becomes legs, or wings, or eyes. Different genes are turned on or off to direct this development. This embryo development and tissue differentiation happens at a very rapid pace.

David has developed a technique that can use minute-to-minute data on gene expression in live fly embryos to find out how turning on genes is controlled. Gene expression on this timescale can be highly variable, but David’s technique shows ways in which gene regulation can reduce this variability.

“This will help scientists understand what biological mechanisms are in place to produce the smooth gene expression needed for well-defined tissue types in embryos,” explains David. “Ultimately this could help understand how birth defects arise and ways in which they could be limited.”

Dr. Holloway is an instructor in the BCIT Mathematics department and teaches into several programs including Biotechnology, Food Technology, and Radiation Therapy. The video below was produced when he received the BCIT Excellence in Research Award in 2010.

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