University of California, Santa Barbara

Campas Research Group - Morphogenesis and Self-Organization of Living Matter

Our group is broadly interested in morphogenesis and self-organization of living systems, regardless of the particular organism or scale. We work to identify general principles of self-organization in living matter, with the goal of eventually understanding the fundamental differences of self-organization in inert versus living systems. We combine theory and experiments, as well as physics, biology, materials science and engineering, to obtain a global (or 'systems') understanding of the problems on which we work. Our current interests span several topics such as embryonic development, tissue growth, cell shape, and morphological variation. Details on past and (some) current projects can be found here.

Over the last 20 years the field of developmental genetics has undergone major advances. We can now measure gene expression patterns and gradients of signaling molecules in living embryos. However, it remains unclear in most cases how to quantitatively relate developmental genetics to resulting morphological phenotypes (e.g., the shapes of bird beaks or the geometry of tissues, among many other cases). We take a complementary approach to purely genetic analyses by studying the physical growth of tissues, both experimentally and theoretically. At the theoretical level, we develop descriptions based on general conservation laws to find out which physical parameters are relevant in shaping tissues. Inspired by the theoretical findings, we are developing new experimental set-ups to measure in living embryos the physical magnitudes (force field, material properties, tissue flow and growth pattern) that control tissue morphogenesis. We are using our new techniques to measure the endogenous cellular forces in living tissues in situ and study the role of physical forces in the collective behavior of cells during tissue growth. In addition, we are extending our techniques to measure the local rheology of embryonic tissues in situ. Our goal is to eventually relate quantitatively the physics of tissue development to the expression patterns of developmental genes.

We are also interested in understanding where the information encoding organism morphology resides and how this information is translated into the morphological diversity observed in the natural world. Is morphological information coded in the structure of gene regulatory networks? Or perhaps in the time sequence of expression patterns of developmental genes? Quantifying the morphological differences among closely related species and mapping these differences to the varying expression patterns of key developmental genes can help reveal the abstract structure behind morphological diversity. Our work on the morphological variation of the beaks of Darwin's finches provides an example of this approach.

In addition to embryonic development and tissue growth, we are also interested in how cells control their shapes. The same questions raised above can be studied at the cellular level, and similar experimental and theoretical approaches can be applied to study them. As an example, please see our work on the physical aspects of cell shape.

For more information on these or other projects of the group (theoretical, experimental or combined theory/experiment), the organisms with which we work in the lab, or the possibility of joining us, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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