Ed Munro and daughter Alice, photo

Ed Munro

Assistant Research Professor

I have spent most of my scientific life trying to reconcile simultaneous passions for mathematics and biology. For me all of the interesting problems in cell and developmental biology reduce to an attempt to understand how networks of molecular interactions endow cells and tissues and embryos with specific lifelike properties: Whether it be the ability of cells to polarize or crawl or divide, the ability of embryos to partition themselves into tissues whose cells are devoted to different fates, or the reorganization and deformation of embryonic tissues to fulfill those fates. For me, mathematics and computer models are the natural way to talk about and predict how these behaviors could emerge from the molecular details.

All of my work is an attempt: a) to turn empirical descriptions of how things might work into mathematical ones and thence into detailed computer models, and b) to pursue descriptive and experimental studies that inform or test these models in the context of specific case studies of developmental processes. To do so, I combine modern microscopy applied to living and fixed embryos with micromanipulation, molecular and genetic perturbations and computational modeling. I devote about equal amounts of time to empirical and computational pursuits. Some specific current interests include:

Mechanochemical networks underlying cell polarization and asymmetric cell divisions in early C. elegans embryos: How mixed networks of regulatory and cytoskeletal proteins interact biochemically and mechanically to bring about the cortical and cytoplasmic reorganizations that establish and maintain cellular polarities, position spindles, and set up asymmetric cell divisions.

Cytomechanics and morphogenesis: How the same conserved cytomechanical modules that endow individual cells with the abilities to adhere and crawl and change shape also endow embryonic tissues with their abilities to rearrange or deform themselves in characteristic ways.

Gene networks and patterned cell fate specification: How networks of interacting gene products operating within each of many embryonic cells adopt the specific spatially patterned states that underlie regional cell fate specification in developing embryos.