About the Lab
Vertebrate embryos transition rapidly from a single cell into a well-defined body plan complete with functional tissues and organ rudiments. This generation of embryonic form, known as morphogenesis, highlights a remarkable degree of self-organization and coordination of highly dynamic cell behaviors. Cells must interpret their position within the embryo, execute specific behavioral programs, and coordinate with their neighbors in both space and time to produce multiple specialized tissues in the correct shapes and positions. It is not known, however, how such spatiotemporal coordination is achieved at the molecular level.
We address this fundamental question in the context of axial extension, which elongates embryos along the head-to-tail axis and ensures closure of the developing neural tube. Using zebrafish embryos and a synthetic embryonic explant system, we are beginning to identify molecules that are both necessary and sufficient for axial extension downstream of early embryonic patterning events. Through characterization of such ‘molecular translators’, we aim to understand how embryonic patterning is linked with morphogenesis and identify a minimal complement of molecules responsible for axial extension.