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Dr Mattia Serra

Harvard University

Dynamic morphoskeletons in development

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. I think the Jamming point of view and our approach provide complementary information, that together disentangle the complexity of multicellular flows.