Cell and Developmental Biology
Cell and Developmental Biology
- Research programme page
Coordinator: Vivek Malhotra
Research in the last quarter of the 20th century shed light on some important questions concerning how an egg becomes an organism. A particularly important achievement has been the uncovering of the genetic programmes that underlie the generation of different kinds of cells i.e. cells are different because they express different genes and achieve these patterns of expression following different genetic programmes. At the moment, we have a good understanding of this and one can call it ‘a principle’ of modern biology.
This understanding allows us to explore the genetic make-up and developmental history of the cells that make up the heart, the pancreas or a lung, and use this understanding to address some important issues of biomedical research, like the development of stem cells. We also know something, though much less, about how these genetic programmes are integrated with patterns of proliferation. However, we know very little about how cells control these programmes of gene expression in space and time to generate the architectures of specific tissues.
Although we might know something about how a cell comes to adopt a fate, we know little about how the right proportions of different fates are achieved or how these become coordinated in space and time to generate organs and organisms. For this reason, the emphasis of developmental biology has changed from a traditional description (at the organismal or molecular genetic level) of the developmental genetic programmes that make an organism to a series of specific questions of cell biology within particular contexts.
The programme of Cell and Developmental Biology of the CRG works on this challenge and is built on the premise that the cell should be the focus of developmental biology and that a cell needs to be understood in the context of a living organism. In the last few years, advances in genomics and proteomics have provided a large amount of information which needs to be placed within the spatial and temporal framework of a cell in an organism. In the same manner that specific proteins can perform different operations in different complexes, these complexes and their individual components, can have very different functions in different subcellular compartments. And signals which have specific effects on individual proteins can have very different meanings to spatially compartmentalized protein complexes.
An important challenge in the next few years is to understand the principles that govern the behaviour of protein complexes within and across cells. With these general aims in mind, the Cell and Developmental Biology programme of the CRG is focused on the interactions between intercellular signalling systems and the cytoskeleton and how this contributes to the spatial organization and information processing ability of cells and groups of cells. It has an emphasis on systems with strong genetics (Drosophila and zebra fish) and uses multidimensional phenotypes grounded in genomics and proteomics.
The programme works closely with the Advanced Light Microscopy Unit of the CRG, which serves as a platform for technological development in collaboration with the interests of existing groups.