Cornelia Isabella Bargmann studied the relationship between genes, neural circuits, and behavior in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the US. Bargmann’s research focused on how the sense of smell (olfaction) in the nematode word Caenorhabditis elegans. She provided a model to study how neural circuits develop and function in the human brain, as the genetic regulatory pathways are similar. She also studied how neurons develop and form connections to influence sensory abilities, and how chemicals called neuropeptides influence reproductive behavior in C. elegans. Such studies enabled researchers to make inferences about similar processes in other organisms, such as humans.
Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique to create a three-dimensional image of a fetus. Doctors often use MRIs to image a fetuses after an ultrasound has detected an, or has been inconclusive about an, abnormality. In 1983 researchers in Scotland first used MRI to visualize a fetus. MRIs showed a greater level of fetal detail than ultrasound images, and researchers recognized the relevance of this technique as a means to gather information about fetal development and growth. Researchers later used the technology to take measurements of the uterus, placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. MRI provided doctors with a non-invasive method to diagnose and treat fetal abnormalities and maternal conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
Curt Jacob Stern studied radiation and chromosomes in humans and fruit flies in the United States during the twentieth century. He researched the mechanisms of inheritance and of mitosis, or the process in which the chromosomes in the nucleus of a single cell, called the parent cell, split into identical sets and yield two cells, called daughter cells. Stern worked on the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly, and he provided early evidence that chromosomes exchange genetic material during cellular reproduction. During World War II, he provided evidence for the harmful effects of radiation on developing organisms. That research showed that mutations can cause problems in developing fetuses and can lead to cancer. He helped explain how genetic material transmits from parent to progeny, and how it functions in developing organisms.
Scientists use cerebral organoids, which are artificially produced miniature organs that represent embryonic or fetal brains and have many properties similar to them, to help them study developmental disorders like microcephaly. In human embryos, cerebral tissue in the form of neuroectoderm appears within the first nine weeks of human development, and it gives rise to the brain and spinal cord. In the twenty-first century, Juergen Knoblich and Madeleine Lancaster at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria, grew cerebral organoids from pluripotent stem cells as a model to study developmental disorders in embryonic and fetal brains. One such disorder is microcephaly, a condition in which brain size and the number of neurons in the brain are abnormally small. Scientists use cerebral organoids, which they've grown in labs, because they provide a manipulable model for studying how neural cells migrate during development, the timing of neural development, and how genetic errors can result in developmental disorders.
In 2003, molecular biology and genetics researchers Coleen T. Murphy, Steven A. McCarroll, Cornelia I. Bargmann, Andrew Fraser, Ravi S. Kamath, Julie Ahringer, Hao Li, and Cynthia Kenyon conducted an experiment that investigated the cellular aging in, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) nematodes. The researchers investigated the interactions between the transcription factor DAF-16 and the genes that regulate the production of an insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1-like) protein related to the development, reproduction, and aging in C. elegans. Transcription factors, like DAF-16, are proteins that regulate the transcription of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), which later determines which proteins the cell produces. The research team's experiment suggested that an increase in the activity of the DAF-16 protein decreases the transcription of the genes that regulate the production of IGF-1-like proteins, increasing lifespan in nematodes. The team published their results in the article 'Genes that act downstream of DAF-16 to influence the lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans' in Nature in June 2003. By comparing the regulation of gene expression in C. elegans with similar genes and pathways in humans, Murphy's research team sought to better understand cellular function and aging in humans.