How are the complex and varied body plans of animals generated during embryonic development? Coordinated cell shape changes and cell movements, which constitute morphogenesis, generate the structure of tissues and organs of all animals. Concomitant with morphogenesis, is the specification of the germ layers, leading to the assignment of cell fates. Together, morphogenesis and cell fate specification underlie the transformation of a simple cleavage stage embryo into a complex, well-patterned adult, and when they go wrong, profound patterning defects result. Remarkably, the astonishing diversity of animal forms arises from a limited set of cellular processes that are shared by all animal species. Thus, by examining these processes in an experimentally tractable organism, we can learn about fundamental cellular properties and mechanisms of morphogenesis and tissue patterning that are likely to be widely used throughout animal development.
Our research program is focused on the following two questions:
How are cell shape and cell movements coordinated during embryonic development to give rise to adult forms?
How is the embryo patterned and cells assigned specific fates?
Our long-term goal is to understand how morphogenesis and embryonic tissue patterning are linked, which is a fundamental question in developmental biology. Our approach is to use a combination of cellular, molecular and embryological techniques to study these questions in the zebrafish. The zebrafish embryo is an ideal vertebrate system for analyzing morphogenesis and patterning due to its accessibility, its transparency, the ease of manipulation as well as the availability of mutant lines with defects in morphogenesis and patterning.