Prof. Shigeru Kondo and his co-workers are walking along a deserted path in the fields of Biology: their research strategy to unravel the fundamental principles of morphogenesis and patterning involves computational simulation as well as experimental analysis. At the moment, the Kondo lab is interested in understanding 1) stripe formation in zebrafish, 2) the mechanisms that shape vertebrate bone and 3) the machinery that controls the patterning of the horn in beetles.
“Those who can imagine anything can create the impossible.”
Alan Turing (1912-1954)
No matter how endless their diversity, the vast majority of all metazoans starts their life as a single cell. Through a series of highly coordinated developmental programs - involving repeated cell divisions, cell differentiation, tissue rearrangements and deformations - the fertilized egg will ultimately give rise to the 3D shape of the adult organism. Prof. Masakazu Akiyama and his team are trying to unravel the fundamental principles of such an elaborate morphogenetic algorithm, through merging Biology with the most fundamental of all sciences: Mathematics.
“Equations are just the boring part of mathematics. I attempt to see things in terms of shape, size and the properties of space.”
The research interests of Prof. Hisashi Haga are situated at the crossroad between Physics and Biology. Trying to understand cooperative phenomena in biological systems, he momentarily focuses on the fundamental question of how cells arrange themselves and collectively create the 3D shape of a biological body. In search for answers, Prof. Haga and his team have chosen an unconventional and hitherto unexplored experimental route: they try to unravel the mechanisms that control 3D morphogenesis, by studying them in a test tube...
“To boldly go where no man has gone before”
Captain James T. Kirk - Starship USS Enterprise
The research route that Prof. Inoue and his team have chosen is meandering along an interdisciplinary crossroad, where biology meets physics, mathematics and computational sciences. Their aim: to define common key components involved in epithelial deformations in search for general principles that guide development. Their approach: 3D modeling to simulate cell and tissue behavior during a wide variety of morphogenetic processes.
“Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower are so many portions of matter, and it is in obedience to the laws of Physics that their particles have been moved, moulded and conformed”
D' Arcy Thompson ("On Growth and Form" - First Edition, 1917)
Gastrulation is considered one of the most important morphogenetic events, involving dramatic tissue rearrangements. Although much is known about the molecular pathways, the role of physical forces controlling this dynamic tissue-remodeling process has just begun to be explored. In an attempt to provide answers to some urging questions, Prof. Takeo Matsumoto and his team have developed a method to visualize mechanical tension inside a developing Xenopus embryo. Welcome to the world of Developmental Biomechanics.
“May the force be with you”
Luke Skywalker, Star Wars V - The Empire Strikes Back
Prof. Kenji Matsuno and his team are seeking answers to questions like “What is the biological meaning of chirality during development?” and “Which mechanisms are involved in left-right asymmetry?” To that end, they have started to unravel the genetic and molecular machinery that controls left-right patterning of the hindgut during Drosophila embryogenesis: for a long time, unwritten pages in the Great Book of Developmental Biology.
“I call any geometrical figure, or group of points, 'chiral', and say that it has chirality if its image in a plane mirror, ideally realized, cannot be brought to coincide with itself.”
Sir William Thomson Lord Kelvin (1894)
Development of certain organisms such as beetles, butterflies and flies, so-called holometabolous insects, involves a dramatic series of morphogenetic events, collectively called metamorphosis. Prof. Ohsawa and her team are trying to understand how an adult fly leg or a beetle horn develops from an imaginal disc during pupal transformation. Is there a hidden logic behind this complex process of folding an unfolding of epithelial tissues? Is there a simple, evolutionary conserved principle that orchestrates these unique morphogenetic processes? Or not?
“We may say that the art of origami is itself a profound puzzle, as one small change can lead to a plethora of variations.”
Kunihiko Kasahara ("The Art and Wonder of Origami")
Recent technological advantages, e.g. in the field of microscopy and 3D imaging, have broadened the scientific horizon in the field of Developmental Biology: looking inside an organism in a non-invasive manner is no longer a distant dream. As such, Prof. Takeda and his team have begun to elucidate the mechanisms controlling somite formation in zebrafish, a morphogenetic event occurring at deeper levels within the embryo.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Prof. Naoto Ueno and his team have undertaken a research journey aimed at clarifying the role of a new player in the field of developmental biology: physical force. Using the African claw frog (Xenopus laevis) as a model system, they study tissue rearrangements during early morphogenetic processes. The results thus far obtained - though still in need of an all encompassing explanation - are nothing short of amazing. However, one thing has become obviously clear: physical force is an unignorable factor to understand morphogenesis.
“It is not birth, marriage or death, but gastrulation which is truly the most important time in your life.”