A developing zebrafish heart in four stages.

Rashmi Priya : Organ Morphodynamics Laboratory

We want to understand how simple structures like groups of cells are moulded into complex organs in a developing embryo. 

Organs are composed of thousands of cells that divide, move, differentiate and change their shape to create a complex three-dimensional (3D) architecture. How these key processes are controlled is not well understood. What triggers a particular cell in a population to change its shape or commit to a specific fate? How this information, encoded in mechanical or molecular cues, traverse across biological scales – cells to tissues to organs?

We aim to address these fundamental questions by studying the heart – the first organ to form and to function during embryonic development. To satisfy the demands of a growing embryo, a primitive heart transforms from a hollow tube of a single layer of cells into a highly organized and intricate 3D structure composed of specialized cell types.

Using transparent zebrafish embryos and advanced microscopy, we visualize this remarkable transformation as it unfolds, monitor changes in cell shape and cell fate while the heart is developing and functioning inside the embryo. We combine cross-disciplinary approaches from cell biology, developmental genetics and physics to investigate the mechanical and molecular mechanisms sculpting this vital organ.

The ultimate goal of the lab will be to extend these approaches in other model systems and identify if there are common principles underlying complex organ morphogenesis. We expect that our research will advance our understanding of heart development defects and will have important implications for the fields of regenerative biology and tissue engineering.