Segmentation by the numbers

18 May 2012

Thomas Gregor
Laboratory for the Physics of Life
Princeton University


How an organism forms a body axis, and how the different body parts along this axis are established and patterned is one of the most central questions in developmental biology. Current access to quantitative data greatly opens the prospect of exposing general theoretical principles in this biological context, similar to our understanding of physical pattern formation. We have chosen the earliest patterning events of the fly embryo because the blueprint for the future adult structure is determined entirely in only three hours and by only a few handfuls of genes (~15). The topology of this relatively small, yet highly complex network has been determined over the past decades by mutational analysis. Fundamental theoretical questions, however, remain unanswered: collective interactions among cells; dynamics of the patterning process; extreme reproducibility, precision and size scaling of the gene domain boundaries; robustness to environmental fluctuations; and information processing through the network to specify individual cell identities, to name a few. All of these issues require quantitative answers, and I will give an overview on where we stand with the development of new methods, initial measurements and some preliminary new insights.

current theory lunch schedule