Early Embryonic Development: to elucidate the cellular, molecular and biophysical mechanisms directing the zygote to establish the embryonic plan for developing a complex, multicellular organism
The Program in Early Embryonic Development supports research that elucidates the molecular, cellular and physical mechanisms that transform the fertilized egg cell into an embryo with defined axes, primary germ layers and organ primordia. The mechanisms involved in this transformation operate when the embryo consists of only hundreds or thousands of cells. They rely on precisely regulated spatiotemporal expression/activation of growth factors, their receptors and intracellular signaling pathways. These mechanisms affect the target cells by activating specific sets of genes that not only control cellular properties, but also physical environments of cells. When these mechanisms operate normally, proper execution of early morphogenetic processes, the organized spatial distribution and differentiation of target cells, leads to the formation of appropriate tissues and organ primordia. When these mechanisms are altered, early developmental events are perturbed. Because these events establish the embryo’s global pattern, slight alterations in them usually lead to embryonic lethality.
The Program in Early Embryonic Development supports research in animal models (invertebrate and vertebrate) and cell-based studies in vitro to understand basic developmental processes. The focus of this program is to support projects that examine the cellular events that produce the embryo’s first pattern and identify and characterize the genes and factors that control these developmental mechanisms. Developmental events supported by this Program include specifications of the embryonic axes, germ layers, and progenitor cells; cell type differentiation; and the cell migrations that occur prior to and during gastrulation. Central to these are molecular, cellular and physical mechanisms that operate in the three dimensional environment of the embryo and regulate cell-cell signaling, intracellular signal transduction, and cell-matrix interactions, the processes that determine cell morphology, migration and positioning. These events create an embryo with an axial pattern and with correctly positioned organ primordia. When they occur correctly, the embryo can proceed to the next stage of its development, organogenesis.
This research also includes Efforts in Biophysical and Biomechanical Aspects of Embryonic Development.