Studying forces that drive morphogenesis in Drosophila

Supervisors: Marcus Bischoff, Malte Gather

Project Description:
To shape tissues and organs during development, cells undergo different behaviours, such as cell migration, cell division and cell shape change. All these behaviours not only create the mechanical forces that drive morphogenesis but also inflict force upon neighbouring cells, e.g. when cells pull at each other. To gain insights into these complex interactions, it is crucial to study the forces generated by the cells in the tissue. However, force generation and distribution in tissues during morphogenesis are still poorly understood. Furthermore, measuring the forces operating in vivo has proven difficult.

This studentship aims to study the forces that act during morphogenesis, using the development of the adult abdominal epidermis of Drosophila as a model. During this morphogenetic process, the adult histoblasts divide and migrate to replace the larval epithelial cells (LECs), which delaminate and die (Bischoff and Cseresnyes, 2009). However, it remains elusive how the forces that drive this morphogenetic process are created and how cell migration and cell shape changes of LECs and histoblasts contribute to force generation.

To tackle these questions, the student will use state-of-the-art in vivo 4D microscopy to image the morphogenesis of the abdominal epithelium. Forces in the tissue will be extracted from the resulting time-lapse data. In addition, forces will be measured directly using novel biophotonics tools that are being developed in the Gather Lab through a Human Frontier Science Program funded research project (Schubert et al., 2015). Furthermore, the student will also manipulate cells genetically and assess the impact of the manipulation on force generation.

This is an interdisciplinary project, well suited for a student interested in the physical basis of complex biological processes. The project will allow the student to work in two labs with complementing expertise. The Bischoff lab has expertise in 4D microscopy of Drosophila morphogenesis and the Gather lab has experience in biomechanics and biophotonics. We offer a collaborative and supportive research environment at Scotland’s first university, which provides top-level training and excellent imaging facilities. In addition, the University of St Andrews offers a large range of courses in transferable skills such as science communication, managing your supervisor, ethics, intellectual property etc.


Bischoff and Cseresnyes (2009). Cell rearrangements, cell divisions and cell death in a migrating epithelial sheet in the abdomen of Drosophila. Development 136, 2403-2411.

Schubert et al. (2015). Lasing within Live Cells Containing Intracellular Optical Microresonators for Barcode-Type Cell Tagging and Tracking. Nano Letters 15, 5647-5652.