How your heart got where it is

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Electricity shapes your body

A team of scientists at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and The Forsyth Institute in Boston believes it has found the answer to how bodily organs are formed. And it’s electrifying. “All living things generate all sorts of electric fields inside themselves,” explains Michael Levin, an assistant professor at the Dental School and a researcher at The Forsyth Institute. “That’s part of life. We have discovered a whole new role for these fields, not expected or explored before. We’ve found that they control the geometric arrangement, the shape, of visceral organs such as the heart, stomach, liver, spleen, and probably the brain.” The researchers have also identified the genes that hold the blueprints of this organ geometry. And they have found that the process occurs much earlier in development than previously suspected. Levin expects that this knowledge will provide a new understanding of birth defects that involve flipped organs, and that the electric aspect of this asymmetry will impact the treatment of cancer, regrowth of missing arms and legs, and regeneration of other types of tissues. Levin and his colleagues did their unique experiments with frog and chicken embryos, but they believe that humans develop in a similar way.