Genetic studies at the IRCM confirm a mathematical model
MONTREAL, Dec. 14, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - Dr. Marie Kmita and her research
team at the IRCM contributed to a multidisciplinary research project
that identified the mechanism responsible for generating our fingers
and toes, and revealed the importance of gene regulation in the
transition of fins to limbs during evolution. Their scientific
breakthrough is published today in the prestigious scientific journal Science.
By combining genetic studies with mathematical modeling, the scientists
provided experimental evidence supporting a theoretical model for
pattern formation known as the Turing mechanism. In 1952, mathematician
Alan Turing proposed mathematical equations for pattern formation,
which describes how two uniformly-distributed substances, an activator
and a repressor, trigger the formation of complex shapes and structures
from initially-equivalent cells.
"The Turing model for pattern formation has long remained under debate,
mostly due to the lack of experimental data supporting it," explains
Dr. Rushikesh Sheth, postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Kmita's laboratory and
co-first author of the study. "By studying the role of Hox genes during
limb development, we were able to show, for the first time, that the
patterning process that generates our fingers and toes relies on a
In humans, as in other mammals, the embryo's development is controlled,
in part, by "architect" genes known as Hox genes. These genes are
essential to the proper positioning of the body's architecture, and
define the nature and function of cells that form organs and skeletal
"Our genetic study suggested that Hox genes act as modulators of a
Turing-like mechanism, which was further supported by mathematical
tests performed by our collaborators, Dr. James Sharpe and his team,"
adds Dr. Marie Kmita, Director of the Genetics and Development research
unit at the IRCM. "Moreover, we showed that drastically reducing the
dose of Hox genes in mice transforms fingers into structures
reminiscent of the extremities of fish fins. These findings further
support the key role of Hox genes in the transition of fins to limbs
during evolution, one of the most important anatomical innovations
associated with the transition from aquatic to terrestrial life."
About the research project
The study published in Science was a collaborative project between the teams supervised by Drs. Marie
Kmita (IRCM), James Sharpe (CRG Barcelona, Spain) and Maria A. Ros
(University of Cantabria, Spain). The research conducted at the IRCM
was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada
Research Chairs Program. The article's second first author Is Luciano
Marcon from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the
Pompeu Fabra University in Spain.
For more information on this scientific breakthrough, please refer to
the article summary published online by Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6113/1476.
About Dr. Marie Kmita
Marie Kmita obtained a PhD in cell and molecular biology from the
Université de Reims in France. She is an Associate IRCM Research
Professor and Director of the Genetics and Development research unit.
Dr. Kmita is also Assistant Professor-Researcher in the Department of
Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de
Montréal, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine (Division
of Experimental Medicine) and the Department of Biology at McGill
University. Dr. Kmita holds the Canada Research Chair in Molecular
Embryology and Genetics. For more information, visit www.ircm.qc.ca/kmita.
About the IRCM
Founded in 1967, the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)
(www.ircm.qc.ca) is currently comprised of 37 research units in various fields, namely
immunity and viral infections, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,
cancer, neurobiology and development, systems biology and medicinal
chemistry. It also houses three specialized research clinics, eight
core facilities and three research platforms with state-of-the-art
equipment. The IRCM employs 425 people and is an independent
institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. The IRCM clinic
is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal
(CHUM). The IRCM also maintains a long-standing association with McGill
About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
CIHR is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency.
CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and enable its
translation into better health, more effective health services and
products, and a stronger Canadian health care system. Composed of
13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than
14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada.
SOURCE: Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
For further information:
For more information and to schedule an interview with Dr. Kmita, please contact:
Communications Officer (IRCM)
Communications Director (IRCM)