A geometric approach to biological patterning
Francis Corson, Institut Pasteur
Understanding how developmental patterns arise remains a central question in developmental biology. While genetic studies have revealed lists of genes and molecules involved in this process, it is often difficult to assemble them into predictive models. The theory of dynamical systems suggests a geometric approach that focuses on the qualitative structure of dynamics, yet allows quantitative predictions. We have applied this approach to the vulva of C. elegans, a simple organ that forms from a small number of cells. The model can be used to predict a “phase diagram” of the system, i.e. the outcome of development in different conditions, and these predictions largely recapitulate the experimentally observed outcomes. A similar approach naturally extends to the patterning of larger assemblies of cells, and I will discuss its application to the development of mechanosensory hair in Drosophila.