I am fascinated by the question of how stem cells choose between alternative fates in developing and adult tissues. Today, one can strip differentiated cells of their fate by inducing pluripotency, yet it remains exceedingly difficult to target differentiating stem cells to a specific fate.
My work focuses on germ layer specification in the South African claw-toed frog, Xenopus Laevis, which is a powerful system for studying cell fate choice and differentiation in a "native" biological context (rather than in cell culture). I am currently studying collective fluctuations of groups of genes, measured at the single-cell level, to test several possible hypotheses for how different fates are selected. My research combines (1) traditional experimental methods used to study developmental perturbations, (2) novel assays for gene expression in hundreds of individual cells, (3) statistical tools for analysing gene expression fluctuations, and (4) theoretical tools for characterizing stochastic cell fate decisions.