Conception to birth: TV gives us the inside story
Using ultrasound, a battery of cameras and computer graphics, imaging experts
have created unprecedented television pictures of animals still in the womb.
Foetal dolphins are, apparently, easy to get on camera, but for elephants
the procedure is rather more convoluted and involves shoulder-length rubber
gloves. The pictures of live animal foetuses were created for broadcast at
Christmas on Channel 4 and the National Oceanographic Channel in America.
They were recorded from the point of fertilisation through to birth, and
the elephant can be seen growing from a singie cell to a 2601b (118kg) newborn.
One of the world's leading ultrasound experts, Thomas Hilderbrandt, was brought
in by the producers to record 4-D images from inside the wombs of dogs, dolphins
The dogs would lie down for the procedure; the dolphins were trained to swim
against the ultrasound equipment; but the elephants had to be given an enema
before a probe was pushed up the rectum to get close enough to the foetus
to generate images.
Jeremy Dear, of Pioneer Productions, which made the 90-minute programme,
said that the star sequence was a computer-generated scene of the elephant
foetus moving down the birth canal, before switching to a live exterior shot
of an elephant birth.
"It gets an 'ahhh' every time," he said "It's anthropomorphism gone mad,
but it's very effective" He added: "The key to this is that it opens up this
unseen world of the animal womb. The reason we got such co-operation from
zoos and vets in making the film is that they were really keen to see what
actually goes on in the womb. What we've done is make it visual."
Several animals of each species were used to create
the images, but the pictures were mixed together to provide viewers with
a sequential story following the creatures from conception to birth. The
golden retriever can be seen panting in the womb with its tongue hanging
out, and the dolphin foetus can be seen at eight weeks, the point at which
it starts to learn to swim. It has another ten months before birth. During
stages from millions of years ago can be seen.
Leg-like buds appear on
the dolphin, then vanish. Similarly, the elephant develops ducts
normally found in freshwater fish. Mr Dear said: "The film underlines some
fascinating facts about our evolutionary heritage and you can't help
be moved by each of our animal's journeys towards birth. "Via a combination.
of advanced technology, in-depth timeline of each foetus's development and
birth, and state-of-the-art computer-generated graphics, Animals in the
Womb offers a pretty extraordinary window on this previously unseen world"
[Note that the programme also said that elephant's testes are held inside
their body showing a heritage from the sea - hardly a creature CREATED
for the land!-LB]
TIMES Thursday November 23,2006 3WC
Genetic jot that makes us unique
genetic differences between individual human beings
are much greater than was previously thought, according to research that
offers a fresh explanation for the unique physical and psychological
characteristics of every person.
A revolutionary map that compared the genomes of 270 people has shown that
humans are not 99.9 per cent genetically identical as assumed, but that much
more of our DNA varies between one person and the next.
Whereas previous analysis of the human genome had suggested that no more
than 0.1 per cent of it underlaid all the genetic differences between
individuals, the new findings indicate that at least three times more DNA
The results reveal a new category of genetic diversity that promises to explain
certain inherited disorders, and why some people are more susceptible to
diseases or respond badly to particular drugs. The work could be especially
significant for HW/Aids, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and
developmental disorders similar to Down's syndrome, which can all be affected
by the newly identified disparities.
The extra variation also expands the ways in which a person's DNA profile
can affect temperament and behaviour, and points to previously unknown genetic
differences between Homo sapiens and our closest
animal relative, the chimpanzee.
Just as humans seem to be 0.3 per cent genetically different from one another,
and not 0.1 per cent, so we may be 3 per cent and not 1 per cent different
from chimps, scientists behind the study say. Charles Lee, of Harvard Medical
School, a leader of the research, said: "The evidence shows that we are more
genetically unique,compared to one another.
That is gratifying in a way. We are all physically different, and we all
react differently to environmental stimuli -
"We are also finding evidence that could help to explain why humans are not
chimps. We can safely say that there's a lot more genetic variation between
the human genome and the chimp genome than was appreciated."
The first studies of the human genome, which was mapped five years ago, reached
the figure of 0.1 per cent variation between individuals by looking at changes
in single DNA "letters" known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.
Similar studies put the genetic difference between humans and chimps at about
1 per cent of DNA This surprisingly low genetic variation led many sdentists
to wonder how so little DNA could be responsible for such significant differences
as those between individual humans, and between humans and other animals.
The new research offers an answer: the old estimates were incomplete. It
has expanded the range of variation by looking also at much larger segments
of genetic code, which can be repeated many times or deleted entirely from
the genome. While most people have two copies of each gene, one inherited
from each parent, some genes or fragments of genes can be absent altogether,
or repeated five or ten times over in certain individuals.
These changes, known as copy number variation (CNV), sometimes have no obvious
effects, but they can influence disease or other aspects of human development
An international research
team has now mapped the genome for CNV, encompassing genetic
changes of 500 or more DNA letters. Their results, published today in the
journal Nature, show that '2 per cent of the human genome is susceptible
to such variation.
Not all these possible changes will separate any two individuals, but scientists
think that their genomes will usually vary by about 0.3 per cent .
Matthew Huries, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in Hinxton,
Cambridgeshire, a leader of the research, said: "The variation that researchers
had seen before was simply the
tip of the
iceberg, while the bulk lay submerged, undetected.