María de Maeztu Unit

The accreditations Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence or María de Maeztu Unit of Excellence are awarded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation with the aim of promoting the quality of Spanish scientific research by recognising the best centres and units that stand out for the relevance and impact, at international level, of the research results obtained during the previous reference period. After the launch and consolidation of the ‘Severo Ochoa’ Centres and ‘María de Maeztu’ Units of Excellence programs these research centers aim to achieve a new level of collaboration, by creating an alliance. The SOMM alliance intents to boost the impact on the attraction of scientific talent and research progress in Spain and abroad exponentially.

Maria de Maeztu award


The María de Maeztu program that started in January 2022, the entire CABD proposes the innovative project entitled "Decision Making in Cell Collectives Across Scales: Principles of Self-organization in Cell Communities" (DMC3 hereafter).


Self-organization is a core principle in biology and an overarching theme of CABD research. Cells organize in time and space as complex, living structures, capable of self-replication, adaptation, and change. Their communication is essential for their emergent organization into tissues and organs, through the coordinated modulation of their biochemistry (i.e. their genome, epigenome, transcriptome, translatome, proteome, and metabolome) and the interaction with environmental cues. However, self-organization goes beyond tissue and shape determination in multicellular organisms, for it encompasses a much larger portion of the biological realm. The multispecies bacterial communities in the soil participating in synergic biochemical routes with neighboring organisms, the time-structured succession of species acting during the fermentation of wine, or the complex interactions within microbial biofilms, are all examples of cell collectives making self-organizing decisions. In all these biological processes underlying the formation of effective living tissues, decisions are taken across scales: from single genes to entire genomes, and from single cells to entire collectives. The DMC3 research program will unfold within this general framework: understanding the multi-scale interactions resulting in structured living behavior.

DMC3 builds on the scientific objectives and successful achievements of its predecessor program DMC2 (2017-2021), which was awarded to the Gene Regulation and Morphogenesis department at the CABD. DMC3 aims to tackle two major and interdependent challenges: (i) to project our science beyond the previous program by implementing new cutting-edge research lines emerging from DMC2 achievements, and (ii) to integrate the scientific activities of the entire CABD by fostering existing and new internal synergies. To accomplish these objectives, DMC3 will implement three emergent research lines, identified on the basis of their scientific and strategic value:

  1. a) Cell Collectives at Single-cell Resolution: The implementation of single-cell methods across the CABD will represent a major step forward. They are essential to circumvent previous limitations derived from averaged measurements in structured cell populations, which often include mixed cell types and cell states. A comprehensive understanding of functional interactions within cell collectives requires identifying all transitional stages and individual genetic programs. Combined with spatial information, single-cell data will have a profound impact on the study of gene expression, genomic regulation, regulatory networks and modeling.
  2. b) Stem Cells & Human Development: One of the distinctive features of the CABD is the use of a broad set of established genetic models (e.g. yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, zebrafish, and mouse), as well as emergent model organisms (e.g. mayfly, killifish, or cavefish). However, human developmental biology has been underrepresented. Promoting this research line is essential to capitalize on our expertise in self-organizing systems, address new developmental and evolutionary questions, and advance towards knowledge and technology transfer opportunities.
  3. c) "EnergOmics": Self-organized systems are strongly conditioned by energy availability at evolutionary, developmental, physiological, and ecological scales. Bioenergetics offers a description of how living organisms transform and utilize energy to perform biological functions. Here we use the term "EnergOmics" to go beyond this standard definition and into the key regulatory role that energy constraints and metabolic states have in collective cell decisions in time and space. This is a key concept to understand phenomena such as development, disease, or aging.


The organization of the CABD and Maria de Maeztu unit


The director of the Maria de Maeztu unit is Juan Pablo Couso


The strategy of the direction to implement DMC3 objectives, thus expanding the CABD scientific reach and its international impact, we will implement the following actions:


- Recruitment of 2 PI to establish new research programs.

- Launch the Cellular Interactions platform (on going).

- Selection of 8 four-year cross-disciplinary PhD each co-directed by two DMC3 PIs to foster synergies and multidisciplinary training that cover various topics

- Promote equal opportunities for career advancement through inclusive actions such as the Leadership in Equality Program (LEaP), 3 LEaP grants were already awarded.

- Increase visibility through the participation in international consortia and the organization of international meetings and practical workshops.

- Implement new schemes for DMC3 management, valorization/transfer, and outreach, including the support of the outreach and management officer.

- Support and develop core facilities crucial to the development of research lines such as bioinformatics, cellular interactions platform and advanced light microscopy and imaging.

CABD - Centro Andaluz de Biología del Desarrollo

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