▸ Research 3: Multi-Cell Patterns and Forms


We use synthetic biology approaches to engineer multi-cell systems with the goal to place distinct cell-types into defined spatio-temporal relationships. This is relevant for, e.g., tissue engineering, or to be able to spatially isolate modules of synthetic compound biosynthesis pathways into neighboring cells. We develop synthetic tools to control cell-adhesion, which allows us to pattern cell assemblies with feature sizes from 5-100s of micrometers.

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To inform these engineering approaches and to identify new ‘algorithms’, we also study the biophysics of natural multi-cell morphogenesis and patterning processes: We investigated how signaling delays during lateral inhibition supports robust tissue patterning with single-cell precision during animal development. We investigated how a mechanical force balance during early zebrafish development coordinates cell and tissue level migration dynamics. We studied how stem cells maintain their density during organ growth and shrinkage in the fly gut through density-dependent differentiation rates. We study the role of EpCAM during collective sheet migration.


Ongoing work focuses on engineering complex synthetic multi-cell systems (e.g., developmental programs), and incorporating suitable systems into cloud labs for distributed (professional and citizen) research, e.g., to study collective microswimmer phenomena under light perturbations.