Fengzhu Xiong

Hello, my name is Fengzhu and I am interested in how patterns and shapes form in developmental biology, especially dynamics of cells and tissue mechanics in vertebrate embryos. I hope to answer systematically how cells organize themselves to form conserved body plans by introducing molecular modifications, high resolution imaging and mathematical/physical modeling and perturbation, so as to further understand the probably simple principles behind the historical complexity of development.

My research group is located at the Wellcome Trust Gurdon Institute of the University of Cambridge. We focus on the cellular and physical mechanisms of tissue morphogenesis, using the avian embryo system. We will ask how cell dynamics lead to tissue forces and how tissue forces drive morphogenesis and ensure its robustness. Our questions reside on the interface of physics and biology, as a result, our approaches are highly interdisciplinary including imaging, embryology, molecular genetics, modeling and novel mechanical perturbation systems. My unique training experiences and collaborative relations in these subject areas provide a strong footing for the success of our investigations and the training of our fellows and students. Our posted/published work can be found on this site (full texts) as well as on Pubmed and Google Scholar.

The lab is situated in the center of Cambridge, an international hub of scientifc research and a vibrant city integrating the historical and the modern that provides young scientists with many opportunities of professional and personal growth. Over the first 2 years of the lab we have built a supportive team of people from diverse backgrounds (see Members) and a network of local and international collaborators. We continue to invite motivated individuals interested in pursing research to get in touch and join us (refer to this page for details).

My postdoctoral studies with Profs. Pourquie (HMS genetics) and Mahadevan (Harvard SEAS) explored the tissue coordination mechanism during body axis elongation,  I found an interesting positive feedback loop between different elongating tissues in the avian embryo. It turns out that the paraxial mesoderm and the axial neural tube and notochord help each other elongate through mechanical forces despite their distinct tissue structure and molecular identities. Testing of this idea involves a computational model and some novel mechanical perturbations. Towards the end of my postdoc I started collaborating with and learning engineering from Dr. Chon U Chan, a member of Maha's group to develop novel technologies for tissue mechanics. I was supported by a HHWF fellowship and a NIH K99 grant for these studies.

My graduate work in Dr. Sean Megason's lab includes in toto imaging analysis of embryonic spinal cord formation and patterning, morphogenesis of surface cells of early embryos, generating tools for lineage tracing, etc. These projects converge to the general questions such as how single cell behavior influences the architecture of tissue, how cells are specified and how they make a developmental pattern or form. Imaging is a powerful tool in the understanding of biology, in Megason lab my colleagues and I have taken a lot of visually impressive and scientifically interesting images and movies with zebrafish embryos, many are posted on this site and elsewhere, some received awards in imaging competitions, some have been involved in scientific publications. Below are links to some of the images and movies I acquired. More are listed in the galleries and movies of this site. A collection of more movies can be found here too: Youtube.

Aquaneering Art of Science 2011// Aquaneering Art of Science 2012// Aquaneering Art of Science 2013// Olympus BioScapes 2011// Olympus BioScapes 2012// Nikon SmallWorld 2012// Nikon SmallWorld in Motion 2012//

I come from Xingyi, a small and beautiful city in the mountains of Southwestern Guizhou Province of Southwestern China. After having my wonderful 6 years in Xingyi's No.1 High school, as most of my friends, I left our hometown in pursuit of college and future in a bigger world. I earned my B.S. degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and finished my undergraduate thesis with Dr. Wei Wu, who is interested in Wnt signaling transduction mechanisms. I was lucky to get the opportunity to study at the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine graduate program of Harvard University Graduate School, and received great advisory from my program director Dr. Bjorn Olsen. My graduate and postdoctal studies turned out to be wonderful steps of my career, and were not imaginable without the great mentoring from Sean, Olivier and Maha, and the support from my enthusiastic colleagues. At Cambridge, I will continue to investigate the mysteries of development and generate new knowledge for the scientific community, while training and helping a newer generation of young scientists to launch their careers.