Project Description: The proper function of human organs depends upon specialised cell types that are organised in an optimal way. Morphogenesis, or the organisation and shaping of embryonic tissues, has long been recognised as an inherently physical process that is poorly understood. Critically, the tools required to unravel how physical rules shape biological structures have not previously been available.
The collaborative team consisting of the Hopyan (developmental biology), Sun (mechanical engineering) and Huang (mathematics) labs is emerging as a world leader in the production of tools to measure physical properties and forces within mammalian embryos, and for establishing how physical laws drive morphogenesis. Two important processes that we identified are rigidity transition, in which tissues flow like melting glass before solidifying into mature structures, and durotaxis, in which cells move toward stiffer areas in developing tissues.
We believe that rigidity transition and durotaxis together explain the physical basis by which all organs are initially organised. Our primary goal is to combine physical data with a computational model we created to define how these processes are interrelated. Our conceptual advance will open doors for explaining the structural basis of birth defects and for mechanically guiding efforts at organ regeneration. Our secondary goal will be to validate our versatile and physically realistic computational model of morphogenesis that will be provided as a free open source program for researchers worldwide. These advances will draw scientific recognition and also collaborative opportunities for scientists in Canada as international researchers continue to seek our tools and software.