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Understanding the Physical Mechanisms of Development

In our group we study:

How are tissue forces and mechanical properties generated and regulated?

 

How do tissue mechanics drive cell behaviors and tissue deformation?

 

How mechanical interactions between different tissues ensure coordinated and robust morphogenesis of the overall embryo (systems tissue mechanics)?

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Research

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. An overarching hypothesis is that development must have explored the wide range of physical processes and pushed the limits of the mechanical environment, and encoded those mechanisms through evolution. To discover these mechanisms, 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 (Systems Tissue Mechanics)? 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. These findings not only help us unravel the complexity of development, but also shed light on many developmental abnormalities and diseases where changes in developmental mechanics drive or are a major contribute to the progression of the conditions, such as cancers and birth defects.

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