Animal embryos undergo an early phase of intense cell divisions – cleavage – that establishes the basic body plan. In many invertebrates (e.g., snails, earthworms), these cell divisions display an alternating oblique pattern, termed spiral cleavage, with the chirality of the first oblique division setting the left-right axis. The cortex and cytoskeleton influence this process in snails, yet their exact role is unclear. This project will combine embryology, imaging and biophysics to determine how molecular changes in actin nucleation and dynamics lead to spiral cleavage in annelid worms, thus clarifying the cellular mechanisms and biophysics controlling one of the most widespread modes of animal development.
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