How do organs control their size? Animals are characterized by their morphology –to such an extent that most often we recognize different species for their unique shapes and sizes (a manifestation of the specialized functions of the animal’s organs). Since organs are the product of development, mechanisms must exist to ensure the constancy of organ size and shape within a given species. However, these mechanisms need also to be plastic, as organ morphology has varied –and in some instances, very remarkably- during evolution. Despite this being a long-standing question in biology –how do organs know their size, and how do they determine when to stop growing- we are not close to have a definite answer.
In the lab we investigate the mechanisms that regulate organ size by studying the eyes of flies. Eyes, because they are specialized sensory structures of great biological relevance; and specifically of flies because eyes have undergone an extraordinary morphological and functional diversification within this huge insect group –the diptera. Our workhorse is the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, one of the most powerful model organisms, and use it as paradigm from which to explore the eyes of close and far relatives. Exploring the mechanisms of organ growth control is interesting beyond the realm of developmental and evolutionary biology, as they are relevant for understanding the causes of congenital diseases and cancer, as well as for organ engineering.
Our research uses a variety of approaches, including developmental genetics, genomics, genome editing, quantitative imaging, and mathematical modeling.