Dr. Michael Veeman

Division of Biology

Cancer involves a loss of control over basic cellular behaviors including cell division, motility and shape. Developing embryos, however, are able to control these behaviors with great spatial and temporal precision. Embryonic morphogenesis depends, in fact, on this fine control of cell behavior. By studying the cellular mechanisms of morphogenesis in model organisms, my lab seeks insight into the fundamental pathways that control embryonic development when deployed correctly, but that when misregulated have roles in tumorigenesis.

Our main model organism is the ascidian Ciona. Ascidians are close chordate relatives of the vertebrates, but have particularly small, simple embryos. This allows us to study morphogenesis with a powerful combination of fine subcellular detail and an embryo-wide field of view. We use advanced imaging and image analysis methods together with tools from functional genomics, developmental biology and cell biology. We are particularly interested in how shape emerges in developing embryos, from the cellular level through to the organismal level. Unlike the aberrant cell and tissue morphology seen in tumors, developing organs show carefully controlled changes in cell shape and tissue architecture.