Morphogenesis and cell mechanics: bridging the scales from molecular biology to tissue development
Tissue growth and morphogenesis are fundamental processes in developmental biology, which are crucial for understanding physiological and pathological issues related to human health. As the basic unit of life, cell plays pivotal roles in these complex processes. On the cellular level, cell division, shape change,adhesion andmigration are essential for the assembly of individual cells into multi-cellular tissues and organs. On the molecular level, these cell behaviors are controlled by various proteins and enzymes that are building blocks of the signaling network and are, in turn, expressed according to a genetic blueprint. On the tissue level, different cell types arrange themselves in spatial patterns that eventually form the tissue. Evidently, morphogenesis involves biochemical and mechanical mechanisms on several length and time scales, and thus has attracted the attention of scientists from several fields, including molecular biology, cell biology, biophysics, applied physics, applied mathematics, and applied mechanics.
Past work on growth and morphogenesis has followed 3 distinct lines, corresponding to molecular, cellular and tissue scales. On the molecular level, most of current understanding of tissue growth and morphogenesis has come from molecular-genetic studies, which elucidate what genes carry the blueprint of how the organism will develop, and how the blueprint is implemented through pathways and networks of causal relationships among signaling proteins. On the cellular scale, physical scientists have undertaken studies on the intracellular mechanisms that cause prototypical deformation of cells such as apical constriction and convergent-extension, on how cells migrate and aggregate and dissimilar ones segregate into domains, and on how cells adhere to and interact with extracellular matrix. On the coarser tissue level, relevant to growth, development, and wound healing, continuum physical models have been developed. So far, these studies tend to be limited to a single length or time scale, and simplistic in view of biological reality. Recent research has demonstrated that many types of diseases, such as cancer and malaria, are intricately linked to mechanical responses of the cells and other, often nanoscale, protein building blocks of life. But how these cellular or sub-cellular structures influence or induce tissue-level phenomena, like tumor growth, is still poorly understood. Moreover, the mechano-chemical coupling at different length scales, e.g., feedback of mechanics on chemical processes in development and pattern formation, remains largely unexplored.
The general objective of this program is to bring together the leading researchers in cell and molecular mechanics and morphogenesis across several disciplines, including biologists, physicists, engineers and mathematicians, to foster awareness and cross-disciplinary transfer of ideas on this rapidly evolving field. In the 4-week program, we will runone topical research workshop and a tutorial program afterwards.
The week-long research workshop will feature leading scientists presenting the latest research results on the multiple and interconnected topics, supplemented by round-table discussions and debates. The research presented will be collected into a special journal issue of EPJ Special Topics. The tutorial programwill feature lectures given by experts for the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and young PI’s in the initial stage of their careers. The lectures will cover the following topics: Genetics and molecular biology in morphogenesis; Protein mechanics; Cell adhesion and mechanotransduction; Cell migration; Morphogen spreading, gastrulation movements, dorsal closure; Multiscale modeling methods; Experimental techniques and methods in morphogenesis study.