Craniofacial patterning : developmental mechanisms of evolutionary changes

The craniofacial complex (head, face) represents the most highly sophisticated and diversified anatomical aspect of vertebrates.

Craniofacial tissues such as skull bones, teeth, and the brain are finely tuned to meet functional and ecological demands with tremendous precision, and their evolution has been a major driving force in the expansion of vertebrate lineages. However, because of the long-lasting interest in conventional laboratory animal models such as the mouse, there is no general genetic or developmental model of craniofacial evolution and diversification in vertebrates.

The inclusion of yet unexplored animal models with substantial craniofacial variation and relevance to human disorders constitutes one priority to address these fundamental gaps. Squamate reptiles represent ideal model systems for understanding phenotypic diversity and developmental disorders, as they exhibit an extraordinary array of life-styles, ecologies and craniofacial features representing patterns found across mammalian and non-mammalian taxa.

We explore potential relationships between craniofacial morphology and ecological/behavioral parameters, using high-definition 3D reconstructions of craniofacial tissues based on 3D imaging techniques such as X-ray microcomputed tomography, soft tissue contrast enhancement, 3D image analysis, and segmentation. We also use a state-of-the-art methodology to investigate the molecular and developmental mechanisms associated with craniofacial development and evolution, by integrating a wide array of multidisciplinary data across various levels of organization, ranging from molecules to cells, tissues and whole organisms.

Additional information can be found in our recent publications (see Publication Page).