Our lab is interested in how genetic information is decoded to generate the precise three-dimensional shapes of organs. As a model, we study the facial cartilages and bones of the larval zebrafish, which can be continuously imaged over time in living transgenic embryos. Specific research topics include the developmental origins of the neural crest progenitor cells that build the craniofacial skeleton, how these progenitors are selected to form cartilage versus bone and then assembled into region-specific shapes, and how folding of the neighboring epithelial tissues orchestrates this patterning. We are also interested in how the facial skeleton can be rebuilt into its correct shape following severe injuries. As many of the genes we study in fish play similar roles during human facial development, our findings are helping explain a variety of human craniofacial birth defects and providing novel insights into how to better stimulate bone repair in patients.
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