Biophysical principles of vertebrate growth

Our lab focuses on the mechanisms underlying growth and shape acquisition towards a quantitative understanding across different biological length scales: from organ down to organelle.

To form an adult body with stereotyped morphology, the size of an organism crosses many orders of magnitude. Its underlying tissues and cells mediate how much and how fast growth will occur: growth needs to be Started, Stopped and Shaped, at the right time and place. Control of growth rates entails precision, one of the least understood features of Biology.


How do organs measure and control their size?
This is a crucial question that has remained long unresolved in Biology. We aim to answer it by looking at cells. We are focused on studying biophysical modes of cellular communication: Electrical Flows, Chemical Signalling and Mechanical Forces, with the goal of understanding how organ growth information is encoded.


How do subcellular structures shape cellular morphology (and vice-versa)?
At a completely different length scale, membrane bound organelles also have stereotypical size and shape. This, together with their intracellular spatial organization, is essential for correct cellular function. We aim to unravel the size, shape and packing interplay between organelles and their enclosing cells, with the goal of understanding cellular specialization and differentiation.

We use the zebrafish larva as an in vivo vertebrate model, as it allows for optimal quantitative live imaging and amenable genetics. Importantly, zebrafish regenerate their organs! This allows us to search for common principles of growth: not only in Development, but also in Regeneration. Because of this, we can choose to perform our experiments with Fast or Slow growth rates – at Steady state or Out of Equilibrium scenarios – achieving proportionality or recovering it!

We generate the molecular tools that enable us to measure and manipulate the physical and chemical parameters at play during organ and organelle growth.

We collaborate closely with physicists as well as computer scientists, both on the experimental and theoretical sides of our questions, so that together, we can get further mechanistic insight into how biological systems grow across scales. If this sounds appealing and you are interested in: collaborating, doing an internship or applying for PhD/Postdoc positions, feel free to contact Rita

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Methodological and technical expertise

  • Zebrafish Genetics (Crispr KI and KO; transgenesis)
  • Molecular biology and cloning
  • Advanced live imaging (e.g. lightsheet) and electron microscopy (e.g. SEM, FIB-SEM)
  • Quantitative image analysis (e.g. Matlab, Python, ImageJ)