An asymmetric pattern of PAR proteins

We are investigating how patterns form in embryos and how these patterns guide the creation and organisation of the many types of cells and tissues that make up an organism.

All animals start life as a single cell – a fertilised egg – from which all the different kinds of cells that make up our bodies must come. To do this, cells must not only replicate themselves, but they must also acquire new and distinct identities and organise themselves correctly in space to generate the different organs and tissues of the body.

We know that embryonic cells organise themselves according to patterns of molecular signals, but although we know the identities of many of these patterning molecules, the underlying processes that give rise to patterns and precisely how cells organise themselves in response remain mysterious.

The tiny nematode worm, C. elegans, has proved to be an excellent model system for identifying and deciphering the molecular pathways that guide development of animals, including humans.

Our lab’s main focus is on a molecular network, the PAR system, that forms an asymmetric pattern inside the worm's cells to give them their sense of direction and allow them to orient in space. This is known as cell polarity.

We want to know how these patterning molecules end up in the right place, how they are interpreted by cells to direct their organisation, movement, and acquisition of identity, and how patterns change as an embryo grows and develops.

Our aim is to understand how these patterns form and direct cell organisation during normal development, as well as revealing what happens when things go wrong. Our findings could point towards potential ways to prevent or treat developmental defects and shed new light on the link between cellular organization and cancer.