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Theory of Living Matter Group

Second pub meeting of the TLM group


Theory of Living Matter pub meetings are informal get togethers where young researchers present their work in a relaxed atmosphere. In our second pub meeting we will have two talks, a theoretical talk and an experimental talk. Both talks are intended to be understandable for a broad audience.

We will begin with a talk by John Biggins (Cavendish Laboratory) on The Mechanical Basis of Morphogenesis.

The development of an adult organism from a single cell requires complex shapes to emerge from simple ones. Such spontaneous shape formation is normally understood within Turing's reaction diffusion framework: chemical morphogens first set up spatial patterns then couple to growth to produce shapes. In this talk I will discuss a growing body of evidence that the shapes of biological organs are often sculpted directly by mechanical forces, without preliminary chemical patterning. In particular, I will discuss recent work on how the gut loops and how villi form, and some of my own results on the folding of the eye's ciliary muscle and the folding of the outer surface of the brain.

Then, after a short break, Amalia Joy Thompson (Department of Physiology) will talk about the Role of tissue stiffness in embryonic axon guidance.

Neuronal growth is essential for nervous system development and is also required for regeneration after nervous tissue injury. As axons and dendrites grow towards their targets, they are guided by environmental cues, including a well-characterised set of biochemical signals. Recent in vitro studies suggest that neuronal growth can also be regulated by mechanical properties of the substrate. However, the role of mechanical cues in axon pathfinding in vivo, and the spatiotemporal dynamics of tissue mechanics during early nervous system development, are still largely unknown. Here we investigate the role of tissue stiffness in axon guidance within the early embryo, using the Xenopus laevis optic tract as a model system. Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons form the optic tract by growing from the embryonic retina, along a stereotypical path on the brain surface, and terminating at their target, the tectum. We have developed in vivo atomic force microscopy (AFM) to map tissue stiffness along the optic tract at different developmental stages. We find that the embryonic brain is overall mechanically inhomogeneous, and that brain stiffness changes over time. Specifically, we find that the elastic stiffness of the tectum is consistently lower than the rest of the path taken by RGCs. Our results indicate that the path of RGCs is correlated with stiffness gradients in vivo, before axon growth stalls after reaching the softer region. These findings are consistent with a role for substrate mechanics in axon pathfinding, which might not only be crucial during development but also during regenerative processes in the nervous system.

After the talks there will be plenty of time for informal discussions. We will serve some snacks and there will be opportunities to order food and drinks.

Date and venue

Date: Wednesday, 26th November from 6-8pm

Venue:The Boathouse, 14 Chesterton Rd, Cambridge CB4 3AX

The Boathouse is located on Chesterton Road directly next to the Cam, roughly where Victoria Road merges onto Chesterton Road.


Since space is limited in the Boathouse we kindly ask you to register in case you plan to attend: Register here

Do you think your experimental work might benefit from theoretical insights? Are you a theorist who would like to present his work to an interdisciplinary audience? Then why not give a talk in one of our meetings? Just send us an email at .