Andrew Oates group

Patterning embryos with oscillations

How do spatio-temporal patterns emerge at the tissue level from noisy cellular and molecular interactions? What are the principles that govern transitions from parts to wholes, and those that determine precision and robustness? We explore these issues using a population of genetic oscillators in the vertebrate embryo termed the segmentation clock.

This multi-cellular clock drives the rhythmic, sequential, and precise formation of embryonic body segments, exhibiting rich spatial and temporal phenomena spanning from molecular to tissue scales. Tissue patterning by cellular oscillations is a recent concept, and the mechanisms and molecules responsible for this astonishing activity are just beginning to be understood.

We are biologists, engineers, and physicists using molecular genetics, quantitative imaging, and theoretical analysis. Because timing is the key to understanding oscillations, we developed a multiple-embryo time-lapse recording method to enable the quantitation and statistical treatment of somitogenesis dynamics. To understand the interactions of noisy cellular oscillators and regulatory networks, we developed theoretical descriptions that have been successfully tested in embryos. We identified the first mutations that change the period of the segmentation clock, opening the door to a molecular understanding of the mechanisms that control the clock’s dynamics. We are beginning to explore new transgenic tools that allow us to follow the oscillations of the segmentation clock in real time.

The three-tier model of the vertebrate segmentation clock

The three-tier model of the vertebrate segmentation clock

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The vertebrate segmentation clock, a rhythmic, tissue-level pattern generator responsible for sequential formation of the embryonic segments that give rise to backbone, ribs and associated muscles. For more details, see: Oates AC, Morelli LG, Ares S. Patterning embryos with oscillations: structure, function, and dynamics of the vertebrate segmentation clock. Development. 2012 Feb 139:625-639.

Current third party funding

Projects (theory and experiment)


  • Professor Frank Jülicher, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany
  • Dr Luis Morelli, Departamento de Física, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Dr Saul Ares, Logic of Genomic Systems Laboratory, Centro Nacional de Biotecnología - CSIC, Madrid, Spain
  • Dr Koichiro Uriu, Theoretical Biology Laboratory, RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Saitama, Japan

Selected publications

Our research themes

Click links to view others working on these themes


  • Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Basic Biomedical Science
  • Professor of Vertebrate Developmental Genetics, University College London, UK
  • Programme Leader, MRC National Institute of Medical Research
  • Affiliate Research Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology, Dresden, Germany


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