Control of in vivo developmental pattern formation via a new large-scale optogenetic workstation: opportunities for bioengineering, synthetic biology, and regenerative medicine
The capacity to generate a complex organism from the single cell of a fertilized egg is one of the most amazing qualities of multicellular animals. The processes involved in laying out a basic body plan and defining the structures that will ultimately be formed depend upon a constant flow of information between cells and tissues. The Levin laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms cells use to communicate with one another in the 4-dimensional dynamical system known as the developing embryo. Through experimental approaches and mathematical modeling, we examine the processes governing large-scale pattern formation and biological information storage during animal embryogenesis. Our investigations are directed toward understanding the mechanisms of signaling between cells and tissues that allows a biological system to reliably generate and maintain a complex morphology. We study these processes in the context of embryonic development and regeneration, with a particular focus on the biophysics of cell behavior. In contrast to other groups focusing on gene expression networks and biochemical signaling factors, we are pursuing, at a molecular level, the roles of endogenous voltages, pH gradients, and ion fluxes as epigenetic carriers of morphological information. Using gain- and loss of- function techniques to specifically modulate cells' ion flow we have the ability to regulate large-scale morphogenetic events relevant to limb formation, eye induction, etc. We believe this information will result in important clinical advances through harnessing the biophysical controls of cell behavior.