At one point or another, we have wondered how life forms come to be. How is an eye made? A flower? Or a pair of wings? These questions are studied in the fields of Physics and Developmental Biology, or more precisely, their interface. Developmental forms are shaped in the physical world. The complex molecular and cellular biology of a developing tissue operates through and within the constraints of mechanical forces. The research of our team aims at understanding the origin, nature and effect of such forces. 3 main questions are asked about any specific developmental process: 1. What patterns, geometries and forces are produced by the molecular and cellular dynamics in a tissue? 2. How do tissues deform as soft matter? 3. How do the mechanical interactions inside and between tissues impact the robustness of patterning and morphogenesis? We combine imaging, modeling, molecular genetics and novel mechanical tools to address these questions in the early avian embryos, mainly chicken embryos. We hope to develop a set of mathematical/physical models that describe fundamental rules of morphogenesis, and a precision engineering platform where tissue/organ development can be mechanically guided and controlled.
Currently, we are developing several specific projects: 1). Measuring tissue forces in the early chicken embryo and assessing the role of molecular and cellular dynamics in producing such forces; 2). Understanding the mechanism and robustness of bilateral symmetry in the formation of vertebrate body axis; 3). Understanding the contribution of paraxial forces in the folding and closure of the neural tube. 4). Gene expression and biochemical changes of cells in a tissue area that's under a graded mechanical environment or mechanical stresses from other tissues. 5) The role and regulation of global tension on the morphogenesis of the early embryo. 6) The role of lumen pressure on tissue shape and cell fate choices in the neural tube. With collaborators, we are also looking at how cell dynamics change tissue mechanical properties and tissue shape in different systems. To pursue these lines of research, we have acquired and created a set of mechanical tools for measurement and perturbation on the live chicken embryo. A detailed resource list can be found below.
We are located on level 3 of the Gurdon institute, the main lab is equipped with the usual molecular lab capacity (centrifuges, gel docs, heatblocks, etc). Embryology: 3x Dissection stations with incubators, stereoscopes and sets of surgical tools; Egg storage and processing fridges and freezers. We also have a well-equipped engineering workstation for electronic and mechanical tool building. Equipment: Zeiss Axio Observer 7 Timelapse station, Leica MZ10 fluorescent upright scope, Custom modified Tissue Force Microscope (TFM) using an Axio Observer base, Custom simple TFM, Picoscale interferometer, Custom magnetic guide, Custom pressure controller, Custom 3D fibre printer, a simple atomic force microscope, Custom puller and tension sensor, Custom embryo stretcher. In addition, we have access to shared equipment including cryostat, needle pullers, RT-PCR and a variety of cutting edge microscopes via the Gurdon imaging facility.