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Keywords:

  • developmental biomechanics;
  • morphogenesis;
  • gastrulation;
  • cellular mechanics;
  • phenotypic variation

Abstract

How sensitive is morphogenesis to the mechanical properties of embryos? To estimate an upper bound on the sensitivity of early morphogenetic movements to tissue mechanical properties, we assessed natural variability in the apparent stiffness among gastrula-stage Xenopus laevis embryos. We adapted micro-aspiration methods to make repeated, nondestructive measurements of apparent tissue stiffness in whole embryos. Stiffness varied by close to a factor of 2 among embryos within a single clutch. Variation between clutches was of similar magnitude. On the other hand, the direction of change in stiffness over the course of gastrulation was the same in all embryos and in all clutches. Neither pH nor salinity—two environmental factors we predicted could affect variability in nature—affected tissue stiffness. Our results indicate that gastrulation in X. laevis is robust to at least twofold variation in tissue stiffness. Developmental Dynamics 238:2–18, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.