We are studying various forms of cell interactions underlying the development of multicellular structures, such as tissues, organs and embryos, using zebrafish and ascidian embryos as model organisms.
We are specifically interested in the role of cell adhesion, polarization, movement and division in the processes by which the embryo takes shape. For studying their contribution, we are using a combination of molecular, cellular and biophysical approaches. This allows us to unravel how mechanical forces are being generated, transduced, received and sensed within the developing embryo, which ultimately determines how the embryo takes its shape.
We have chosen zebrafish and ascidian embryos as model organisms to study tissue, organ and embryo morphogenesis, as they are chordates, similar to humans, but also develop outside of their mother and are thus easily accessible for experimental manipulations. In addition, ascidian embryos display an invariant cell lineage, allowing us to directly investigate the relationship between cell/tissue morphogenesis and cell fate specification.
We have also begun using gastruloids/organoids consisting of zebrafish stem cells, but still consider the actual embryo as the ‘gold standard’ for understanding tissue/organ morphogenesis in a physiologically relevant context. Currently, the main focus of the lab is on mechanosensation and morphogenetic processes mediated by phase transitions, such as tissue fluidization.