Image-based Modeling and Simulation of Morphogenesis

Workshop Report

The inaugural workshop on Image-based Modeling and Simulation of Morphogenesis brought together some of the leading minds from diverse fields to discuss how computer modeling and bioimage analysis can contribute to understanding biological morphogenesis. Participants were researchers working at the molecular, cellular, tissue, and whole-organism scales using both theoretical and experimental approaches.

Robert F. Murphy (Carnegie-Mellon) presented a generative model of the cell. He drew upon graphical models as a representation for spatial relationships within the cell. He showed how multiple classes of generative models can be combined to reproduce cellular morphology in the computer both statically and dynamically. Alexis Pietak (Tufts) used computational modeling to reveal a simple and elegant mechanistic hypotheses to explain the spatial organization of regeneration in planaria, highlighting a hitherto overlooked role of the nervous system. James Sharpe (EMBL Barcelona) presented a combination of theoretical and experimental work to mechanistically explain limb bud morphogenesis in mice. Throughout his presentation he drew upon the coupling of molecular-scale control, cellular coordination, and tissue mechanics. He emphasized the need to establish a morphological ordering of developmental stages that may not align with precise developmental times. Nicole Theodosiou (Union College) gave an experimentalist perspective on the exciting question: what is the morphological event that triggers the chirality of gut formation in skate? This left participants with a sense of curiosity about what biological questions can be answered with computational models, and what questions are only now beginning to be asked. On the final day, Henrik Jönsson (Cambridge, UK) presented an impressive body of work on computational morphodynamics in plants. He focused on the interplay between genetic regulation of stem cells, hormones, and mechanics of growth, highlighting key differences between animal and plant morphogenesis.

The workshop also saw impressive presentations by graduate students and junior scientists that were selected from the submitted abstracts. This included: A. Asadullah (IIT Bombay), M. Marin-Riera (EMBL), G. Dalmasso (EMBL), U. Günther (CSBD), K. Ishihara (MPI-PKS), K. Soans (MPI-CBG), L. Epstein (U Idaho), and A. Matyjaszkiewicz (EMBL).

It was particularly rewarding for participants from theoretical, computational, and experimental backgrounds to be able to discuss and exchange ideas in the time between the presentations. All participants actively engaged in discussions often continuing in the evenings, which was an important part of the workshop concept. The modest size of the workshop greatly facilitated discussions by promoting a sense of community that enabled all participants, from graduate students to keynote speakers, to approach one another and to be actively involved.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we received very positive feedback and throughout the meeting new collaborations were established. Multiple attendees expressed interest in hosting the next iteration of the IMSM meeting in 2021. A number of the speakers also plan to write a perspectives paper that presents the next steps towards a mechanistic understanding of the century-old mystery of morphogenesis. As a whole, the meeting helped unify researchers working across physical scales, scientific disciplines, and methodologies. The collaborations and ideas that were established at IMSM19 will help nucleate a new community for image-based modeling in developmental biology.