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Design Principles of Branching Morphogenesis

Project description

Modelling of branching morphogenesis

Some organs, such as lungs and kidneys, for example, require a high surface-to-volume ratio for function, creating highly branched tubular structures during a developmental process called branching morphogenesis. The mechanisms, molecular signalling and cellular reorganisation necessary for creation of the organ structure remain fundamental open questions. The EU-funded Demos project will use theoretical methods to understand how stochastic rules lead to organ morphogenesis, including bidirectional coordination of the individual cells' fate. Researchers will apply their broad experience in modelling cytoskeletal interactions, stem cell dynamics and branching processes in general by combining systems biology and biophysical approaches at multiple scales.


Branching morphogenesis, the process by which branched organs such as the lung, prostate, kidney or mammary gland are generated, is a paradigmatic example of complex developmental processes bridging multiple scales. The mechanisms through which given molecular signals and cellular behaviours give rise to a robust organ structure remains a fundamental and open question, for which theoretical methods are needed. Our experience in modelling cytoskeletal mechanics, stem cell dynamics and branching processes puts us in a unique position to tackle this fascinating problem, by combining systems biology and biophysical approaches at multiple scales. In particular, we will focus on:

1. Understanding how stochastic rules lead to robust morphogenetic outputs at the organ scale, and which constraints and optimal design principles they impose on physiological function.
2. Characterizing at the cellular scale the bi-directional feedbacks coordinating fate choices of stem/progenitor cells and niche signals during the extensive remodelling events that branching morphogenesis entails.
3. Developing at the subcellular and cellular scale an integrated mechanochemical theory of pattern formation in branched organs, to understand the coordination of mechanical forces and chemical signals defining their global structure.

Towards these goals, we will combine analytical and numerical tools with data analysis methods, to reach a quantitative understanding of the emergent mechanisms driving branching morphogenesis. We will challenge our theoretical predictions with published datasets available for different organs, as well as design specific experimental tests in collaboration with experimental biology groups. This will allow us to compare and contrast different systems, and extract generic classes of design principles of organogenesis across length scales. With this, we expect to generate novel insights of broad relevance for the fields of systems, computational and developmental biology.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 452 604,00
Am Campus 1
3400 Klosterneuburg

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Ostösterreich Niederösterreich Wiener Umland/Nordteil
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 452 604,00

Beneficiaries (1)