Collective behaviour lies at the heart of all biological design. Whether it is the assembly of proteins into complexes or the organisation of animal societies, collective interaction creates something much greater than the sum of the parts. A breathtaking example of collective behaviour is seen during embryogenesis, when thousands of individual cells ‘self-assemble’ to form functional tissues and organs. Given the key role played by collective cell behaviour in organ formation, wound repair and cancer, it is surprising how little we know about how cells organise each other.
We take an integrative, multi-scale approach to study how dynamic cell behaviours, like motility, regulate the assembly and disassembly of organs. Using the transparent and rapidly-developing zebrafish embryo as our primary model, we develop and apply in vivo imaging/analysis and synthetic biology perturbation tools to control organ differentiation at different spatiotemporal scales. Our long-term goal is to provide an understanding of how dynamic cell organisation and gene expression are interconnected during tissue morphogenesis, mechanistic insights that should help advance the development of ‘organs in the dish’ for regenerative medicine.