The objective of the WingX project is to quantify the genetic program that governs the growth and shape of an organ, namely the Drosophila wing. Using advances in developmental genetics that provide us today with the toolkit (morphogens, transcription factors and so on) of organogenesis, we will employ a synergetic experimental and computational approach to identify how this toolkit is used to build the Drosophila wing of reproducible size and form. We will provide a quantitative description of wing development at a multiscale systems level as determined by the interaction of processes at the molecular, cellular, and tissue level. We consider that the Drosophila wing is a model uniquely suited for a systems biology approach.


A Systems Biology Approach to Wing Development

Systems biology is an interdisciplinary research field that focuses on complex interactions in biological systems. Biological systems and processes are viewed as dynamic, integrated networks of interacting molecules – for example of genes and proteins. To build such a network two prequisites must be fullfilled: i) The molecules and interactions between the molecules need to be known and ii) the technologies to build the networks need to be established. In other words, new technologies have to be developed, quantitative data have to be collected and analysed, and mathematical models to predict and simulate the behavior of biological systems need to ge generated. Nowadays, elaborated systems biology technologies, like imaging and proteomics technologies, are used in applied sciences such as molecular oncology.


By studying the developing Drosophila wing as an in vivo and in vitro organ system we intend to advance the state-of-the-art technology in modern systems biology approaches. Our model of choice is the developing Drosophila wing – a well studied organ system that is relatively simple and thus accesssible for a systems biology approach. During embryogenesis, progenitor cells are set aside and give rise to a single layered epithelium consisting of about 60’000 cells at the end of the larval stages. Despite its relative simplicity, this organ system offers challenging properties - considering that the developing wing is arranged in compartments and its growth and patterning is dependent on diffusible molecules called morphogens. Our approach aims at providing spatio-temporal resolution of quantitative data recorded during wing development at the molecular, cellular, and tissue level. The results obtained will advance the understanding of organogenesis and will set new standards in the application of optical and computational methods for complex biological problems.


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