My group is interested in how two fundamental developmental processes, segmentation and patterning, are regulated and coordinated during vertebrate embryogenesis to generate morphological complexity. While segmentation subdivides the embryonic body plan into an array of morphologically similar units or segments, patterning processes assign different positional identities to such units based on their anterior-posterior position along the main body axis of the embryo. What are the mechanisms that coordinate segmentation and patterning within and between different tissues such as the nervous system and mesoderm (muscle and bone forming tissue)? What are the conserved and divergent aspects of this machinery that drive variation in segment number and/or identity between vertebrates?
We are addressing these questions using the chicken and zebrafish embryos as model organisms. This allows us to combine classic embryological techniques with powerful molecular and genetic approaches. By using two evolutionarily distant organisms, we expect not only to elucidate the core molecular processes underlying segmentation and patterning of the nervous system and mesoderm, but also the source of diversity in vertebrate segment number and form. Furthermore, we expect this research to have important medical implications as it directly addresses developmental processes underlying common birth defects such as open neural tube or congenital vertebral malsegmentation.