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Spectacular time-lapse footage of a frog egg developing into a tadpole

Developmental biology can be an off-putting subject. There’s all manner of special terminology you have to learn like blastocoel, notochord, allantoin, and archenteron. You have to study not only the effects of a host of physiological chemicals, but also the effects of those physiological chemical in gradients.

It’s easy to get a bit lost in all the details (even though they are critically important to understand) and lose sight of what the grand process of development looks like in-situ. There’s something about seeing it through the video medium that no cross-section or animation can provide and thanks to filmmaker Francis Chee, we all have a fantastic new opportunity to do just that.

In two time-lapse videos currently available on his Youtube channel, viewers can watch the the development of an actual tadpole all the way from zygote to blastula and beyond! While this isn’t the first time the development of a frog has been captured via time-lapse, this is definitely the most captivating video of the process I’ve seen.

The videos were made using what the filmmaker describes as a “custom designed microscope base on the ‘infinity optical design‘ ” placed on a special anti-vibration table. LED’s were used to provide the required lighting.

Microscopy rig used in the making of these videos. (Image source: Francis Chee)

Given the variables that would need to be controlled in order to capture these images like temperature, water quality, and position which would need to be maintained for hours on end, the filmmaker did an outstanding job capturing this process.

Wait…this looks like CGI

Yes, at least for someone like me who is not an expert in CGI techniques, it does. But I’ve done some digging and it appears to be genuine.

The filmmaker is Francis Chee (Ph.D. from University of Sydney. Thesis: Development and evolution of the serotonergic system in the larvae of Patieriella (Asteroidea), 2000). He is a specialist in microscopy who has produced works like the cover image of the 1999 centennial issue of the Biological Bulletin. His work has been profiled in features like this one and his work is available in the Science Photo Library.

If this is a forgery of bona-fide microscopy, then it seems like the filmmaker would have a heck of a lot to lose both in terms of reputation and livelihood so I’m willing to believe that this is real microscopy until sufficient evidence emerges to the contrary.


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