"The role of mechano-chemical cues in vertebrate axial patterning and somite generation (2022-06-GUEVORKIAN_SORRE)" project details

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General information

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Morphogenesis; Physics; Microfluidics; Tissue stress; Tissue mechanics

The role of mechano-chemical cues in vertebrate axial patterning and somite generation

Director(s) and team

Karine Guevorkian and Benoit Sorre

Dynamic Control of Signaling and Gene Expression


We propose an interdisciplinary project, at the interface of physics and developmental biology, to study the role of mechanical and chemical signals in tissue patterning and emergence of shapes in vertebrate embryos.   We are interested in understanding how mechanical cues and possible feedbacks between mechanics and biochemical pathways result in the formation of structures during the axial morphogenesis of vertebrate embryos. We focus on the process of somite generation or “somitogenesis”, which is a crucial tissue patterning event leading to the formation of our musculoskeletal structures. Somites emerge as cells from the posterior mesoderm differentiate under the action of morphogen gradients and undergo mesenchymal to epithelial transition along the anterior-posterior axis, form epithelial segments which detach periodically from one end. From a physics point of view, the process is reminiscent to the pearling instability in soft materials. Genetics has identified the biochemical pathways involved in cell fate specification allowing to reproduce the early steps of segmentation in vitro from explants or stem cells. However, the cross-talks between physics and biology, leading to the morphogenetic step of somite generation with a characteristic shape and size are not yet known.   Here, we will explore the role of tissue mechanics and the impact of the micro-environment in which the tissue evolves on the process of somitogenesis in chicken embryos. We will develop experimental approaches inspired by soft-matter physics and novel microfluidics techniques to: i)                    assess the role of mechanical cues and mechanosensitivity as the mesoderm differentiates along the axis, in ex vivo controlled conditions, and ii)                   define the impact of the spatiotemporal morphogen gradients on somite generation.   Later, we will integrate our findings with the existing theoretical models to offer a comprehensive description of somitogenesis combining physics and biology.

Requirements to apply for the PhD thesis project

Applicants should hold a master’s degree in one of the following areas: biophysics, bioengineering, physics, biology, or in a closely related field. Knowledge in programming and image analysis are beneficial. The applicant should have a creative mindset, capacity to work independently, team working spirit, and willingness to develop new skills at the interface of physics and biology. A good command of English is essential, both as the local working language and because of our international collaborations.