To the average observer, the feathers of a chicken serve as protection from the weather or as a vehicle to fly. But to a group of researchers in the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Department of Pathology, chicken feathers — and more specifically, how they develop — may hold the answers to a number of health related questions, even in humans.
In the laboratory of Cheng-Ming Chuong, professor of pathology at the Keck School, researchers have cultivated feather development as a highly analyzable model to decipher the principles on how stem cells can be engineered into different tissue patterns.
Their latest study, “Dots Versus Stripes: MAPK/ERK Signaling Pathway in Periodic Feather Pattern Formation” was first authored by Chih-Min Lin, a newly graduated Ph.D. student from Chuong’s lab. Lin and his colleagues used a cultured skin model to target signaling pathways with specific inhibitors in order to figure out how and why different patterns, such as dots or stripes, of feather bud growth were formed. Randall B. Widelitz, associate professor of research pathology and a co-investigator, used time-lapse video microscopy to record the process of bud formation.
Using the recorded movie, mathematicians at Oxford University in the U.K. were able to develop a mathematical model that simulated the process of periodic pattern formation. This type of multi-disciplinary research may shed light on developmental disorders, evolutionary biology and even tissue engineering of stem cells in the future.
Lin presented the research findings at the 46th Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) held Dec 10 in San Diego. The study was one of 13 to be selected from over 1,270 submitted abstracts for an ASCB press conference highlighting “novel and noteworthy” research of 2006.