Pattern-forming systems provide essential spatial cues to guide the complex three dimensional puzzle that is organismal development. Work over the past decades has identified most of the key molecules involved, yet we are only beginning to understand how the collective activities of these molecules give rise to patterns at the cell and tissue scale. What are the properties of these networks that permit pattern formation? How are pattern boundaries established? What sets the scale of a pattern and how do pattern-forming networks adapt to the changes in the size and shape of cells and tissues that are inherent to the development process?
Our lab currently focuses on cell polarity networks, which serve as spatial templates to cell organization along an axis, thereby allowing the cell to differentiate, for example, its front from its rear. Defects in cell polarity networks can disrupt numerous developmental processes, including cell migration (leukocytes), the orientation of cells with respect to their environment (epithelia), cell fate specification during asymmetric cell division (stem cells), and the generation of complex cell morphologies (neurons). By developing a systems-level understanding of pattern-formation by cell polarity networks, we hope to enable new therapies for the prevention and treatment of developmental defects and cancer.