Self-organizing cellular systemsA milestone was reached when cells, the atoms of life, got assembled in organized multicellular entities. We are interested in identifying the conditions and rules that enable groups of cells to acquire an ordered structure, especially when external guidance is absent through self-organization.
A clump of randomly mixed cells from the freshwater polyp Hydra represents an extreme case of self-organizing abilities. These cells are able to self-organize into an entire new animal. As the spherical clump of cells tries to build an animal, it goes through mechanochemical oscillations and we want to understand how such behavior facilitates patterning.
Another cellular system from mammals that displays self-organizing properties are the cells of presomitic mesoderm, an embryonic tissue that gives rise to the vertebrae. These cells get organized around evenly spaced centers. From these centers a "Mexican wave" of gene expression sweeps the organizing tissue. We want to know how cells exchange information and adjust their rhythm to generate wave patterns.
In the lab we use quantitative live imaging of these systems in combination with chemical and genetic perturbations. We are exploiting tools from mathematics and physics to understand the complex phenomena of self-organizing cellular systems.