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Marketa Kaucka, PhD
Max Planck Group Leader

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The head represents the most complex part of the vertebrate body. This intricate structure is comprised from a variety of tissues and cell types that are assembled together during the early embryonic development. Although the cellular dynamics during the head morphogenesis has been outlined and several key molecules affecting the integrity or the symmetry of the head have been identified, a complex understanding of the head and its shape formation is missing.

It is believed that evolution of the head went hand in hand with the origin of cartilage. This stiff matrix enabled efficient protection of the central nervous system and of other sensitive sensory tissues. Cartilage allowed facial outgrowth, accommodation of improved feeding apparatus and provided scaffold for muscle attachment. Interestingly, the overall shape of the face depends on the cartilaginous template that is formed during embryogenesis and is, subsequently, turned into bone.

Cartilage has been traditionally studied in the long bones. Such rod-shaped structures contain specific regions called growth plates where constant and oriented cell divisions occur and lead to the bone elongation. However, the cartilage forming the embryonic face is flat and can be perhaps compared to a sheet of paper that can be folded like origami to achieve very complex 3D shape. Recently, we have uncovered fundamental mechanisms of the growth of facial cartilages. Based on these findings, we aim to investigate underlying molecular machinery driving these complicated processes. Furthermore, we want to understand what signals drive the induction of the facial cartilage and where do they come from. Our ultimate goal is to elucidate what are the gene expression programs that drive the first steps of craniofacial development and we want to track the evolutionary changes of such programs across various species.

We combine the state-of-the-art methods of single cell transcriptome sequencing, multicolor reporter lineage tracing, tissue targeted genetic modifications, RNAscope technology, micro and nano-computed tomography with classical molecular biology methods.

 
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