Dynamic morphoskeletons in development

Mattia Serra, Sebastian Streichan, Manli Chuai, Cornelis J. Weijer, L. Mahadevan (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)
    217 Downloads (Pure)


    Morphogenetic flows in developmental biology are characterized by the coordinated motion of thousands of cells that organize into tissues, naturally raising the question of how this collective organization arises. Using only the kinematics of tissue deformation, which naturally integrates local and global mechanisms along cell paths, we identify the dynamic morphoskeletons behind morphogenesis, i.e., the evolving centerpieces of multicellular trajectory patterns. These features are model- and parameter-free, frame-invariant, and robust to measurement errors and can be computed from unfiltered cell-velocity data. We reveal the spatial attractors and repellers of the embryo by quantifying its Lagrangian deformation, information that is inaccessible to simple trajectory inspection or Eulerian methods that are local and typically frame-dependent. Computing these dynamic morphoskeletons in wild-type and mutant chick and fly embryos, we find that they capture the early footprint of known morphogenetic features, reveal new ones, and quantitatively distinguish between different phenotypes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)11444-11449
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number21
    Early online date7 May 2020
    Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020


    • morphogenesis
    • cell motion
    • coherent structures
    • finite time Lyapunov exponent
    • Morphogenesis
    • Finite time Lyapunov exponent
    • Cell motion
    • Coherent structures

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General


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