In our group we study the Drosophila tracheal system with the aim to understand the process of epithelial tube morphogenesis.
The fertilized egg has an enormous capacity, through divisions and cell differentiation, to form the multiple structures that constitute our bodies. Epithelial tubes are among the intricate structures. They form extended networks, which enable us to breathe, to circulate our blood and to collect and secrete body fluids.
Epithelial tube morphogenesis can with advantage be studied in simpler organisms, which offer multiple ways of experimental manipulation, including genetics. Drosophila melanogaster is one such organism. Formation of its trachea, a respiratory network of plain epithelial tubes, shares striking parallels with mammalian tubular organ development and is now a leading model organ for epithelial tubulogenesis.
Studies of the trachea have helped us reveal a role for apical extracellular components in tube morphogenesis, which represents a new biological field. We now use the trachea to understand the relationship between osmosis and regulation of lumen volume, the interplay between different structures in shaping a lumen, formation of epithelial barriers and the global coordination of developmental gene programs to produce functional organs and organisms. Characterization of such fundamental processes in Drosophila, which shares two thirds of its genes with humans, should enable the recognition of analogous mechanisms in vertebrates.