Currently, we focus on three key analyses. First, we reconstruct cell lineages throughout the developing embryo and develop new computational methods to determine and compare their characteristic properties. Comprehensive cell lineage reconstructions have so far only been possible for lower invertebrates, such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Recent progress in microscopy technology development, however, has opened the door to system-level analyses of embryogenesis in vertebrates and higher invertebrates, and allows us to work towards a quantitative understanding of complex organisms undergoing non-stereotypic development. Second, we use our digital reconstructions to study cell division patterns as well as the time course and coordination of cell movements. We correlate this information to cell fate decisions and to the spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression. This reveals important stages of differentiation and enables a mechanistic analysis of the developmental building plan, e.g., by dissecting early signaling centers. Third, we study the formation, architecture and function of neural tissues at all stages of development.
In all applications, we strive for quantitative understanding. Our experimental analyses are therefore combined with computational modeling to reduce the results to concise rules that can be tested and validated by functional interference.