Embryology at the beginning of the 21st century finds itself in a situation similar to neurobiology; the behavior of the component pieces is understood in some detail, but how they self-assemble to become life is still very hazy. There are hundreds of molecules that enable cell communication and genetics defines their function by classifying aberrant embryos at a suitable intermediate stage of development, which is difficult for mammals and impossible for humans. Embryonic stem cells can be expanded indefinitely and in the context of the embryo give rise to all cells in the body. The colloquium will describe synthetic systems that coax these stem cells to recapitulate aspects of gastrulation, which is the process by which the embryo transforms from a sphere to a cylinder, builds its anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral axes, and segregates cells into ectoderm (skin and neurons), mesoderm (muscle bones and blood), and endoderm (gut, lungs, pancreas, etc.) lineages.
Host: Ned Wingreen, Princeton University