Cellular Networks

The fruitfly wing is an amazing example of self-assembly. Starting from a small disc of 30 cells, the wing forms through many rounds of division until it is a large tissue with some 30,000 cells. During this time the wing also manages to create important architectures, from the cobblestone like regularity of cell shapes, to laying down the pattern of veins, to controlling overall organ size and shape. Many researchers study this system as a model for multicellular organism development. At the same time, the wing belongs to a category of tissues that is common throughout the animal kingdom (and similar to plants) called epithelial tissues. As a result it shares many interesting properties with other multicellular organisms and gives us a clue about the evolution of multicellular systems.

We are interested in the link between local and global, i.e. how do the local decisions of a cell result in high-level tissue structure? And vice-versa, can high-level tissue structure give us clues about how cells take decisions? Our approach involves looking at tissue as an expanding network (graph) of cell connections and using different techniques to understand the properties of this graph. Our work revealed several unexpected new insights, and has been published in Nature (2006), Plos Compbio (2009) and Cell (2011).

Together with our long-time collaborators, Dr Matt Gibson (Stower's Institute) and Dr. Norbert Perrimon (Harvard Medical School) we investigated this system. This work was led first by Ankit Patel, an SSR applied math phd who graduated in 2009 and is now faculty at Baylor College, and  later by William ("Tyler") Gibson, a biophysics phd student who graduated in 2011.