Mechanics of Development Lab

The Saunders lab focuses on using quantitative
biology techniques and modelling to deepen our understanding
of important questions in developmental biology.

Timothy Saunders Lab2019-09-20T15:21:43+08:00

News and Announcements

Singapore Fish Meeting 2018
October 22, 2018: We organised a meeting of the fish research community in Singapore. We had over 80 attendees across the afternoon – it was great to see the vibrancy of the local community. See NUS’s article on the meeting here: And more information, including the programme here:

Download for our latest paper in Developmental Cell
September 25, 2018: Our latest paper in Developmental Cell,  Spatiotemporal Coordination of FGF and Shh Signaling Underlies the Specification of Myoblasts in the Zebrafish Embryo, is available for free download, valid for a month at

New heart cell paper in Developmental Cell
July 24, 2018: It’s out! Shaobo’s work on how heart cells find the right partner has just been published in Developmental Cell. See also the story behind the paper at

New paper in Journal of Royal Society: Interface
July 11th, 2018: Jeronica and Chris’ paper is out in the Journal of Royal Society: Interface. We explore how robust Drosophila temporal development is – it turns out the embryo is nearly as robust temporally as it is spatially. But it is temperature dependent.

Testing models of Bicoid gradient formation
September 5, 2018: The latest paper is out. We use a protein-age reporter to test different models of Bicoid gradient formation: More information at EMBO Press. It looks like diffusion is important in forming the Bicoid gradient.

Saunders Lab welcomes two new Post-docs
August 29, 2018: Excited to welcome our new fish post-docs Jason Lai and Mario Mendietta to the lab. Looking forward to pushing our Zebrafish development stories.


The Timothy Saunders Lab uses quantitative experiments and theory to take a systems approach to tackling problems in developmental biology.

In particular, we are interested in deconstructing how robust patterns and structures emerge from the complex array of genetic and biophysical interactions occurring in the embryo. Within this general problem, we have two main research arcs.

First, we use four-dimensional in vivo imaging of organogenesis and tissue formation inside the developing Drosophila and zebrafish embryos to better understand how organs grow, scale and interact during development. Second, we look at temporal regulation during development: when decisions are made are as important as where, yet how timing is controlled during embryogenesis is an open question. An overarching goal is to understand how development is so reproducible given the complexity of the underlying processes.

The lab emphasizes interdisciplinary research, with both experimental and theoretical people. Our objective is to collect quantitative data that can then be compared with realistic theoretical models.

These models are then used to make predictions which we test in the lab. As an example, we are using lightsheet microscopy to image whole Drosophila embryos at subcellular resolution. This enables us to explore, for example, how individual cell fates are related to organism-level scaling.

The Saunders lab is based at the Mechanobiology Institute, a Research Centre of Excellence. We are also part of the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

Recent Featured Research


Current research projects

Our research tackles two major problems in developmental biology: how do embryos ensure coordinated development to ensure robust morphogenesis? and how does complex organ shape emerge during developing?

Gap gene expression patterns in cycle 14 Drosophila embryo

Shaping organs through differential adhesion

The lab explores the role that differential adhesion plays in driving organogenesis, with particular emphasis on the shape of the emerging organ.

Drosophila embryos

The Drosophila embryonic heart forms as two parallel lines of cardioblasts that fuse together to form the heart vessel. There are distinct types of cardioblasts and as the heart vessel forms, the distinct types align with each with high precision. We are investigating how differential adhesion – mediated by filopodia interactions – directs cardioblasts to accurately match with their contralateral partners.

In Zebrafish, the skeletal muscle (myotome) forms a distinctive “chevron” pattern. However, how does this complex shape emerge? We are investigating how interactions between neighboring tissues help to shape the developing myotome.