▸ Research ⋯ Biophysics of Development

 

We investigate how genetic networks orchestrate the dynamics and mechanics of developing embryos with the long-term motivation to advance our understanding on human disease and tissue engineering.

 

Developmental biology studies how cells divide and organize themselves into structured tissues ranging from simple organs to whole organisms. Despite the increasing success in implicating genes and their interactions in many developmental processes, a full understanding often remains elusive due to the complexity of the underlying genetic networks and the resulting dynamical and mechanical processes.

 

We approach these challenges with a physics approach by iterating between mathematical models and quantitative experiments while studying zebrafish development. Zebrafish is one of the main model systems used by the scientific community and has many advantageous properties such as optical transparency of the larva, fast and external development, access to many eggs needed for statistics, and the variety of genetic tools available.

 

Our work will result in new quantitative methods to monitor and perturb these genetic networks, and we aim for conceptually deeper insights into key developmental principles such as the utility of entrained genetic oscillators and the properties of mechanical signals.

 

The long-term vision is that we ultimately describe developmental processes in mathematical terms and thereby understand how the underlying genetic networks have been quantitatively tuned during evolution; furthermore, that we apply this knowledge to the engineering of patterned tissues.

 

Here are some inspiring developmental patterns. Although their eventual geometries are very different - the dynamic processes and genes responsible for these patterns are closely related.

 

developmental patterns image

 

The following publication best illustrates our interest and approach (see here for short version).

 

Riedel-Kruse, I.H., Müller, C., and Oates, A.C.
Synchrony dynamics during initiation, failure and rescue of the segmentation clock.
Science (2007) 317: 1911. (pdf) (journal) (Editors' choice)