The control of growth

Our lab studies the control of growth using Drosophila as a model system. We use a combination of molecular and genetic approaches to investigate the cell-cell signalling pathways and the genetic mechanisms that govern how cell, tissue and body growth are controlled.

Developmental and environmental signals determine body growth

Growth is generally controlled by developmental and environmental signals. During development several families of conserved cell-cell signalling pathways (e.g. Wnts, Hedgehog, Notch, BMPs and receptor tyrosine kinase signalling) can regulate organ size by controlling cell growth, proliferation and survival. In addition, many environmental factors (e.g  nutrient abundance, oxygen and temperature levels, pathogens) can influence animal growth and body size. Animals often live in conditions where these factors fluctuate. Thus, as they develop, animals must coordinate their metabolism with their changing environment in order to properly regulate their growth. A goal of our lab is to understand how these developmental and environmental signals regulate metabolism and physiology to exert control over cell, tissue and body growth.

Drosophila larvae provide an excellent model to study tissue and body growth

During the four-day Drosophila larval period, animals increase in mass almost 200-fold. This dramatic growth  mostly occurs in non-dividing polyploid cells that make up the bulk of the larval organs. Since neither pupae nor adults grow, final body size is determined by growth during the larval period. The versatility of the Drosophila genetic tool-kit allow us to  ‘turn-on’ or ‘turn-off’ genes at any time or any place (cells, tissues, whole body) during development, making Drosophila larvae an excellent model system with which to study the control of growth.