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How and when to build a tail

In a study funded by FCT, researchers at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) have identified a central gene in the transition between trunk and tail in vertebrates. Moises Mallo and his team found that when the Gdf11 gene is inactivated in mouse embryos, they develop long trunks because the transition from trunk to tail is delayed. Conversely, if Gdf11 is prematurely activated, the embryos show extremely short trunks, with the hind legs being very close to the front legs. The researchers revealed a delicate balance occurring at the rear end of the embryos, in which the Gdf11 gene induces immature cells (called progenitors) to become the cells of the hind legs and tail. These results, published in the prestigious journal Developmental Cell, allow us to understand the wide anatomical variety of vertebrates (compare a mouse to a copperhead, for example), but also contribute to a better understanding of human congenital malformations.