22 December 2022

EMBO Postdoc Fellowship for Virgínia Andrade

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Virgínia Andrade, a postdoc in the group of Ina Sonnen, has been awarded an EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship. This fellowship supports excellent postdoctoral researchers throughout Europe and the world for a period of up to two years. With this fellowship Andrade will study the mechanochemical signaling guiding morphogenesis during development of vertebrate embryos. The results of this project will provide a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between mechanics and signaling regulating the segmentation of vertebrate embryos.

Segment formation

During embryonic development of vertebrates, the segmentation of mesoderm into somites, compact blocks of tissue giving rise to vertebrae, is regulated by a molecular clock. This clock is termed the segmentation clock. These periodic signals combined with so-called signaling gradients along the tissue have been suggested to determine the timing and location of future segment formation The subdivision of the embryo into smaller regions or segments. These segments give rise to different body parts such as the vertebrae.


Besides cell-cell communication via signaling pathways, cell and tissue mechanics and changes of mechanical properties along the tissue have been found to be important for segment formation in recent years. However, how signalling oscillations and mechanical changes impact each other and jointly affect somite formation is not understood. In this project, Andrade aims to investigate the mechanochemical signalling governing morphogenesis The biological process by which an organ or tissue develops into the correct shape during mammalian vertebrae formation in detail. To this end, she will use a three-way strategy. First, she will quantify tissue mechanics in relation to signalling dynamics. Second, she will modulate signaling oscillations to analyze the effect on the mechanics of the tissue. Last, she will modulate tissue mechanics to quantify the effect on signalling oscillations in real-time.


For this project, Andrade will make use of gastruloids, embryo-like structures derived from embryonic stem cells. These recapitulate key aspects of segmentation during embryonic development and allow the investigation of the segmentation at mechanistic detail. The project will, for the first time, provide a detailed insight into the relationship between the signalling oscillations and tissue mechanics of the mesoderm, clarifying how their coordination and regulation control somite formation during early embryo development.

About the EMBO postdoctoral fellowship

EMBO awards Postdoctoral Fellowships to excellent postdoctoral researchers throughout Europe and the world. The fellowship, which includes a salary or stipend and a relocation allowance, supports the researcher for a period of up to two years.