Physics of the Early Embryonic Cell Divisions

Organisers: Lendert Gelens and Julia Kamenz

Date: 11 – 14 November 2024

Location: Buxted Park, East Sussex, UK

Early embryogenesis constitutes a biological and physical conundrum: How can a single fertilized cell self-organize into a highly complex multicellular organism? Huge physical and biological challenges are associated with this task:

  • The embryo is often orders of magnitude larger than the arising somatic cells. Nevertheless, it divides more rapidly, synchronously and robustly.
  • Despite being largely transcriptionally silent, the early embryonic divisions establish the accurate patterns and geometries essential for later development and differentiation.
  • Error-correcting mechanisms such as cellular checkpoints generally perform poorly in early embryos, raising the question how precision and embryonic fidelity are assured.

Recent advances in microscopy of the living embryo (e.g., light sheet microscopy and the development of activity- and force-measuring biosensors) as well as complementary in vitro and embryoid systems have made the early embryo amenable to highly quantitative temporal and spatial measurements. Combining these quantitative methodologies with the appropriate mathematical and physical frameworks, will enable us to identify the core physical principles defining early embryogenesis, develop predictive quantitative models of this process and push the boundaries of our understanding about this fundamental process of life.

Although the early embryonic development has fascinated both theoreticians and experimentalists for a long time, we recognize that subfields have drifted apart. This workshop will bridge this gap and bring together theoreticians and experimentalists studying the early embryonic processes in different organisms. The common platform will allow us to discuss new discoveries, concepts, and perspectives and develop a coherent understanding and language. In this way, we hope facilitate new collaborations and strengthen this highly interdisciplinary community.

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