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Heart Displayed in Whole New Light

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MRIs, X-rays, even autopsies none of these tools gives a truly dynamic or detailed understanding of how a heart works

MRIs, X-rays, even autopsies none of these tools gives a truly dynamic or detailed understanding of how a heart works. However, researchers at Cornell University and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have developed a tool which can do just that.

By inserting a jellyfish gene, which causes fluorescence in the hearts of mice, researchers are able to watch every heartbeat pulse with green light. As a result, researchers can see details on a molecular scale and record those images.

Already the research has produced answers about the developing heart. Using fluorescence, researchers have discovered that initially, heartbeats in mice are coordinated by a newly-discovered layer of cells that cover the surface of the developing heart. These cells regulate the heartbeats from day 10, when a two-chambered heart begins beating, until day 13 of development. Around day 13, when the heart develops into four chambers, those cells die off and the atrio-ventricular node takes over.

Michael Kotlikoff, Chair of Cornell's Department of Biomedical Sciences and lead investigator, believes this discovery is just the beginning and plans to use the technique to investigate heart disease, irregular heartbeats, and even embryonic growth of other organs.

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