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The Tree of Life

Our programme image this year comes from research conducted at The Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge. The Gurdon Institute is a world-leading centre for research at the interface between developmental biology and cancer biology. The Institute, now 25 years old, was named in recognition of the achievements of Professor Sir John Gurdon, one of the Institute’s founders. Professor Gurdon won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012 and continues to conduct his research at the Institute.

Our image, Tree of Life, is by Saskia Suijkerbuijk, a former member of Dr Eugenia Piddini’s Laboratory in the Gurdon Institute. The image shows a 3D reconstruction of the gut of a fruit fly.

Dr Piddini’s Laboratory studies cell competition in normal cells and in cancer cells. For tissues in our body to function the best, the cells they are made of must also perform optimally. To achieve this, a mechanism has evolved called ‘cell competition’. This process happens during embryonic development. When cells grow and divide, they compare themselves to their neighbours, weaker cells are eliminated and only the best cells survive. This process is one of those that ensures the birth of healthy individuals.

The process of cell competition can also, unfortunately, allow cancer cells to kill surrounding healthy cells. Dr Piddini’s research uses Drosophilia - the fruit fly - and mammalian cell cultures, to discover how cells compete and what signals they use to sense which cells are the strongest. These studies will allow researchers to understand better the process of cell competition and also its impact on cancer biology.

 

Image copyright: Saskia Suijkerbuijk, Piddini Lab, The Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge