This image – resembling a network of rivers and canals – actually shows the tracheal tip cell of a fruit fly.
Fruit flies are heavily used in research and they are a common model organism in developmental biology. Researchers at EMBL use the larvae of fruit flies to study tracheal cell development. Their results can help us to understand the development of tubes in e.g. human blood vessels.
This is possible because blood vessels have a similar structure to the fruit fly tracheal system and are also composed of a network of highly branched tubes. Tip cells lead the way when new blood vessels are formed. They guide endothelial cells – which line the interior surface of blood vessels – and sense their environment for guidance cues. Because of this essential role, the tip cells are a potential therapeutic target for anti-cancer therapies, to stop tumours from developing their own blood vessels.