Funded by Volkswagen Foundation 10/2017 - 09/2021
The development of complex multicellular organisms from a fertilized egg cell continues to pose some of the most intriguing and challenging problems in modern biology. Life at this level is governed by complex regulatory processes and disentangling these has proved difficult. Yet there are a few physical processes that are believed to underlie the differentiation into different cell types, tissue formation, organogenesis and form and function of Life more generally. The outcome of these processes can be shown to be highly replicable, robust and capable of producing the complexity we observe in nature.
Here we propose to investigate the role of Turing patterns, which are dynamical mechanisms generated by (bio)chemical processes involving reactions and diffusion that produce spatial order and are found in natural systems, such as in growing digits in the hand. We will develop a synthetic biology design approach, coupling synthetic biology with state-of-the art developmental biology and mathematical modelling in order to study how biological organisms develop spatially distinct structures exploiting Turing pattern generators. Rationally designing molecular networks and exploring the space of possible mechanisms that lead to spatially and temporally coordinated gene expression is a stringent test of our understanding of a fundamental aspect of developmental biology. This approach will give us a new way of testing hypotheses, and provide insights into the applicability of systems and synthetic biology in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.