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Fengzhu Xiong

2019 Xiong

Fengzhu Xiong, PhD.

Europe PMC | Pubmed | Google Scholar

Xiong lab website at Harvard

Fengzhu is due to become a Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute during 2019, joining us here in June from his current role at Brigham Women's Hospital/ Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, USA.


Tissue morphogenesis by mechanics and cell dynamics

How do biological shapes form in the physical world? Embryos are made of soft materials consisting of cells with limited mechanical capacities, yet they develop in a robust and coordinated manner. 

We are interested in the ways with which the tissues adapt to and take advantage of their physical constraints in order to achieve the correct shape and pattern. This knowledge is useful for understanding complex birth defects and engineering stem or reprogrammed cells into tissues, as well as interpreting the changes in diseased tissues such as tumours.

As cells grow, divide, deform, move and differentiate, they produce stresses in their local environment. A pattern of these cellular activities in space-time generates large-scale forces that cause tissue deformation (morphogenesis). We use both theoretical and experimental tools to assess these forces to understand how they arise.

Another main focus is the role of inter-tissue forces in morphogenesis. Tissues are packed together in the embryo and the deformation of one likely would have a direct mechanical effect on another. We have previously shown that the paraxial mesoderm and axial tissues coordinate their elongation through a mechanical feedback. We are currently investigating if the identified forces are also important for the straightness (bilateral symmetry) of the tissues and the folding of the neural tube.

We use early avian embryos as a model system. The large size and accessibility of these embryos allow us to image cell and tissue dynamics, perform molecular genetic perturbations, and deploy novel mechanical tools such as soft gels and cantilevers to measure and apply forces.


Selected preprints

  • Xiong F, Ma W, Benazeraf B, Mahadevan L, Pourquie O. Mechanical Coupling Coordinates the Co-elongation of Axial and Paraxial Tissues in Avian Embryos. bioRxiv 412866; DOI: 10.1101/412866.
  • Xiong F*, Tentner AR*, Hiscock TW, Huang P, Megason SG. (*Equal contribution.) Heterogeneity of Sonic Hedgehog Response Dynamics and Fate Specification in Single Neural Progenitors. bioRxiv 412858; DOI: 10.1101/412858.

Selected publications

  • Oginuma M, Moncuquet P, Xiong F, Karoly E, Chal J, Guevorkian K, Pourquie O (2017). A Gradient of Glycolytic Activity Coordinates FGF and Wnt Signaling during Elongation of the Body Axis in Amniote Embryos, Developmental Cell 40(4):342-353.
  • Xiong F, Obholzer ND, Noche RR, Megason SG (2015). Multibow: Digital Spectral Barcodes for Reliable Lineage Tracing, PLoS ONE 10(5): e0127822.
  • Xiong F, Megason SG (2015). Abstracting the Principles of Development Using Imaging and Modeling, Integrative Biology 7:633-642.
  • Xiong F, Ma W, Hiscock TW, Mosaliganti KR, Tentner AR, Brakke KA, Rannou N, Gelas A, Souhait L, Swinburne IA, Obholzer ND, Megason SG (2014) Interplay of Cell Shape and Division Orientation Promotes Robust Morphogenesis of Developing Epithelia, Cell 159(2):415-427.
  • Xiong F, Tentner AR, Huang P, Gelas A, Mosaliganti KR, Souhait L, Rannou N, Swinburne IA, Obholzer ND, Cowgill PD, Schier AF, Megason SG (2013). Specified Neural Progenitors Sort to Form Sharp Domains After Noisy Shh Signaling, Cell 153(3):550-561.


To apply to work with Fengzhu please visit his page on the Harvard website.