The extension of the body axis is an essential morphogenetic process in vertebrate development. We are studying the physics of body axis elongation in zebrafish with the goal of understanding how cells sculpt the tissue into its functional morphology. Using magnetically responsive microdroplets to measure local mechanical properties in the developing tailbud, we show that vertebrate body elongation entails spatially-varying tissue mechanics along the anteroposterior axis. Specifically, the tissue behaves as a viscoelastic material with lowest tissue stiffness (at short timescales) and viscosity (at long timescales) at its most posterior end, where the tissue extends.

Press coverage:

Nature 'News & Views', UCSB Current