Research Groups

Natalie Dye

Throughout my career, I have been fascinated by a fundamental open question in biology: how the morphology of an organism is genetically controlled. Numerous genes affecting morphology are known – but how the products of these genes come together to make a complex and dynamic 3D structure is a challenging question. I have addressed this unknown throughout my career by directly observing and quantifying morphological development and then using genetic perturbation to probe the coordinating mechanisms.

Phd in Biochemistry: Stanford University, jointly advised by Julie Theriot and Lucy Shapiro

During my PhD, I worked on morphological development at the single cell level. I isolated a suite of mutants in the prokaryotic actin gene mreB and used their shape phenotypes to gain new insight into how bacteria grow. We discovered that the cell maintains a constant surface area-to-volume ratio due to a metabolic link between the production of cell wall precursors and cell volume growth, and the role of MreB is to maintain, rather than determine, cell width. We proposed a model that cell shape emerges from the dynamic coupling between the metabolic state, cell geometry, and the feedback between these two provided by MreB.

Postdoc: MPI-CBG, advised by Suzanne Eaton

As a postdoc, I investigated the control of morphology at a larger scale – that of a whole tissue. While the system and players are entirely different, the concepts remain similar – what influences the rate, duration, and direction of growth, what senses overall geometry, and what sets overall shape and size? In the Eaton lab, I approached these questions using the Drosophila larval wing disc model. I made a breakthrough by discovering a novel hormonal requirement for wing growth, which not only provided novel biological insight by connecting an organismal cue to tissue patterning systems, but also allowed me to extend growth of explants ex vivo while maintaining their patterning systems. I then performed live imaging, directly tracked cellular behaviors, and applied our lab’s new method for quantitatively decomposing tissue deformation into contributions from each type of cellular behavior (divisions, rearrangements, and elongations). My analysis of wild type growth made important discoveries about the dynamics and mechanics of tissue growth and paves the way for understanding how developmental signaling gradients influence tissue growth orientation.

Acting group leader: MPI-CBG

After the death of Suzanne, I have taken over leadership of the group, while also branching out into new scientific directions. My expertise at the intersection of morphogon/hormonal signaling and cell mechanics allows me to oversee the completion of the projects in the Eaton lab. Going forward with my own independent career, I aim to continuing working with the Drosophila model, expanding upon the results of my postdoc to discover fundamental mechanisms controlling tissue size and shape. In addition, I aim to apply the skills and concepts gained through my postdoc to new systems, with a particular interest in human organoids and disease models.

Suzanne Eaton was research group leader of this group until July 2019. Her life came to a tragic end in Crete on July 2, 2019.

In 2001, she started her research group, linking seemingly distant areas of research in her own laboratory in order to find deeper explanations for the pattern formation in the development of the fruit fly. The focus of her research was the question "How do cells form tissues?”
The board of directors of the MPI-CBG states: “Suzanne had a huge impact on the development of our institute in that she bridged different disciplines – biology, physics and mathematics – and as such inspired the interdisciplinarity that has characterized the research at the MPI-CBG since its conception.” Suzanne was instrumental in shaping the development of the MPI-CBG. She had a decisive influence on this community as a family-friendly, international, intellectual environment with plenty of room for innovative ideas.

Statements from family, friends, and colleagues are collected on our “Remembering Suzanne Eaton” page