Multicellular Systems Biology

Multicellular Systems Biology

Systems Biology

Multicellular Systems Biology

Group leader

Multicellular Systems Biology

Group leader


This lab has moved to EMBL Barcelona site, Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), Barcelona, Spain.

Contact James Sharpe at EMBL Barcelona HERE. However, CRG email will remain active for a period of time.

1997 - PhD MRC National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, London (UK). "Cis-regulatory mechanisms of the Hox genes in mouse development."
1997 - Postdoctoral on Xenopus development, University of Chile.
1998 - MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh. Postdoctoral on computational approaches to study mouse limb development.
2001 - Development of a 3D optical imaging technique and introduction of the term "Optical Projection Tomography", commercialised under the name Bioptonics.
2003 - Group Leader in Edinburgh.
2006 - Group Leader at the Centre de Regulació Genòmica, Barcelona (Spain), and ICREA Research Professor.
2014 - Coordinator of the Systems Biology Programme at the Centre de Regulació Genòmica, Barcelona, Spain.
2017 - Director of EMBL Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


The goal of our group is to bring together an interdisciplinary team of scientists to focus on the research of a particular complex system – development of the vertebrate limb. We aim to understand it both at the level of gene regulatory networks, and at the level of the physical interactions between cells and tissues.

To achieve this the group includes embryologists, computer scientists, imaging specialists and engineers. We thus aim to capture the whole process of understanding, from novel approaches for data-capture (live time-lapse OPT imaging) to finite-element simulations of the growing 3D structure and computer models of the gene networks responsible for pattern formation across the organ.

This combination of approaches is allowing us to address the following questions: What kinds of cellular movements are responsible for creating to correct 3D shape of the limb? How are these behaviours coordinated? How is the correct spatial pattern of gene expression controlled? What topology of gene regulatory network may be responsible for this complex phenomenon?


23rd May 2016

The fin-to-limb transition as the re-organization of a Turing pattern.

Onimaru et al. Nature Communications 7, 11582 doi:10.1038/ncomms11582

By combining experiments in shark embryos with computer modelling, we reveal that a Turing patterning network involving Bmp, Wnt and Sox9 is deeply conserved in skeletal patterning, all the way from sharks to mammals.


23th October 2015

A Local, Self-Organizing Reaction-Diffusion Model Can Explain Somite Patterning in Embryos

Cotterell et al. Cell Systems 1(4) 257–269

By exploring dynamical computer models of somite patterning and then testing these ideas experimentally in chick embryos, we argue that the available data supports a Turing model just as strongly as the prevailing Clock & Wavefront model.