Researchers in the Extavour Lab, along with lab alumni Seth Donoughe of University of Chicago and Taro Nakamura of the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan, investigated embryonic development in crickets. Early in insect embryogenesis, many nuclei form within a single cytoplasm. Extavour and her colleagues developed methods for tracking the movement of these nuclei and teamed with applied mathematicians who were then at SEAS–Christopher Rycroft, who is now at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jordan Hoffmann, who now works at DeepMind–to delve into the movements of these migrating nuclei.
“The most memorable aspect of this particular collaboration was the special synergy achieved by the unique and distinct contributions of everyone on the team,” Extavour says. “Taro has a gift for knowing just how to manipulate and place the embryo so that you can observe what you know or suspect would be interesting to see. Seth has a talent for pulling an endless set of possible hypotheses out of even the smallest dataset, and getting everyone else excited enough to dive into testing them. Jordan has a fearless attraction to messy and noisy data, which biology is full of. Chris has observed the geometries and topologies of many different biological and abiotic phenomena, which gives him a big picture perspective on dynamic forms and pattern formation that is not weighed down by obsession over the details of any single one of them. And I have a deep knowledge of how cells behave in embryos in a wide range of animals, that allows me to find potential connections between cell behaviors and their underlying mechanisms across the tree of life.”
Together, the team was able to discern geometric patterns that explained much of the movement of these nuclei.