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Developmental and Stem Cell Biology MajorResearch topics

Stem cells are unique in their ability to undergo asymmetric cell division and thereby maintaining their own population on one hand while giving rise to precursors of differentiated cells on the other hand. Therefore stem cells are the central component of growing, self-renewing or regenerating tissues and are found in a wide variety of systems in all multicellular organisms. The regulatory networks of maintenance, recruitment and differentiation of stem cells are intensively studied at COS Heidelberg using different model plant and animal systems (e.g. retinal stem cells of zebrafish and medaka, testis stem cells of Drosophila, cnidarian stem cells, plant meristem cells of Arabidopis).

Stem Cells & Regeneration

Stem cells are unique in their ability to undergo asymmetric cell division and thereby maintaining their own population on one hand while giving rise to precursors of differentiated cells on the other hand. Therefore stem cells are the central component of growing, self-renewing or regenerating tissues and are found in a wide variety of systems in all multicellular organisms. The regulatory networks of maintenance, recruitment and differentiation of stem cells are intensively studied at COS Heidelberg using different model plant and animal systems (e.g. retinal stem cells of zebrafish and medaka, testis stem cells of Drosophila, cnidarian stem cells, plant meristem cells of Arabidopis).

Early Development & Patterning

The early development of organisms is determined by a transition from single-cell state to a highly ordered multicellular system. Crucial for this transition is the establishment of developmental patterns which give rise to the essential axes organizing the basic symmetry of an organism. This in turn allows the establishment of finer patterns, which define body regions, organs and tissues. Our research interests include the molecular mechanisms of germline development and fertilization as well as the spatio-temporal regulation of embryonic patterning and development using plant and animal model systems.

Morphogenesis/Organogenesis

The organs of multicellular organisms are a prerequisite for the functional complexity of higher eukaryotes. Crucial steps in organogenesis are the initiation of organs at locations defined by earlier patterning and their subsequent growth and differentiation into a functional arrangement of interdependent tissues. Our main focus is the study of molecular regulatory networks and mechanisms underlying processes like the neuro- and synaptogenesis in Drosophila, plant organ development in Arabidopsis, eye development in zebrafish, and fly gastrulation.

 

Developmental Disorders

Genetic or environmental disturbations can lead to aberrant development or upkeep of bodily functions, resulting in a multitude of disorders like growth defects, neurodegenerative diseases, or cancer. Understanding the genetic and mechanistic basis of these disorders can shed new light on the normal course of development. However, the greatest value of these insights may be their clinical impact, allowing new and improved approaches for prevention and treatment.

Developmental Signaling

Developmental processes in a multicellular organism depend on the appropriate coordination of division, growth and differentiation of a vast number of cells. This coordination requires signaling on a multitude of scales, ranging from cues generated by the direct cellular neighborhood to long-distance signals. Together they adjust the development of all parts of a growing body to the common goal of generating a functional organism.

Developmental Evolution

Evolutionary innovation is not just the addition of new parts to an existing organism but the change of developmental processes to result in novel shapes and functions. Therefore understanding the course of evolution cannot be derived from the isolated analysis of single genes but requires insight into how genetic variation alters developmental processes in different organisms. The field of “Evo-Devo” therefore widens the view from a single organism to a complex understanding of development throughout time and biological diversity.

 

Ecological Developmental Biology

Development does not only depend on genetic influences but also integrates external signals to facilitate the adaptation of individual organisms to their environment. Unraveling the interplay of internal and external influences on development is pivotal to understand the phenotypic variation found in nature. These in turn result in the ability or inability of organisms to cope with the ever-changing nature around them. We want to understand the perception of abiotic and biotic factors and their impact on plant and animal development.

 

Related Groups

N. Foulkes, A. Guse