People

Thomas Gregor

Assistant professor of Physics and member of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics

Why am I doing this?

 

There are three outstanding questions in nature that fuel my curiosity: What is it all made of? Where did it all come from? What is life and what makes us think? Physicists have come a long way at tackling the former two with particle- and astrophysics; however, the latter has traditionally been left to life scientists, and physicists were brought in for new tools and toys, and for quantitative support.

I believe physicists should study life as a question in it’s own right though; as a quantitatively trained scientist who sometimes asks naive questions; as an explorer who discovers “the land of the living”. My only hypothesis is that life has to somehow be reconciled with the laws of physics; and I think it is worth asking what was the “big bang” of life, or what was the “big bang” of consciousness.

But then there is also something else in it for me, in which I do see some “magic” in life, but I don’t trust or believe it, which makes me nervous and makes me want to understand more. I always felt this magic when I had a living organism under my microscope and that organism would just do its spiel for me, over and over, as if driven by a magic hand. I think the true beauty of biology is that we physicists don’t get it, and that there is this “life thing” that we cannot put into our preconceived frameworks. That’s what distinguishes life from the traditional aspects of nature studied by physicists; and I think that’s where we might have a true chance at discovering some new physics through the “eyes” of life.

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Research Staff

Puttachai “Net” Ratchasanmuang

Research Specialist

I am very interested in how complex traits are generated and evolved in multicellular organisms. I received my master’s degree at the University of Delaware in Molecular biology and Genetics, studying signaling pathways that are vital for developmental processes in all organisms. I am developing novel genetic tools, which will be used to reveal molecular mechanisms underlying transcription in early Drosophila embryos.

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Research Associates

Monica Skoge

Associate Research Scholar, Lecturer in Physics.

I’m interested in the dynamics and spatial patterning of cells, from the shape and movement of single amoeba to the self organization of a population. Amoeba, as well as similarly motile immune cells in our body, can sensitively follow chemical gradients in their environment in the process of chemotaxis to locate targets and organize in space. To move efficiently, initially round cells polarize and establish a defined front and rear, but strikingly this polarity can be rapidly reorganized in response to external cues. How do cells achieve this plasticity? Similarly impressive large-scale organization capable of rapid rearrangement also occurs at the population level during the aggregation of amoeba to form a multicellular state. My research combines microfluidics and microscopy with physical modeling to reverse engineer the underlying dynamical systems through precise and dynamic manipulation of the chemical cues in their environment.

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Duong “Zoom” Nguyen

Postdoctoral Research Associate

I am interested in self-organization of active constituents. Dictyostelium discoideum (dicty), a social amoeba species, is an ideal system to study such phenomena because upon starving, they enter the development phase and transform from unicellular to multicellular organisms, the dynamics of which is readily observable and trackable under the microscope thanks to their large size, fast and directional motility. During development, dicty cells communicate via a messenger molecule called cAMP to guide their aggregation towards the center. I am building a setup that is able to interact optically with dicty communication to study signaling and aggregation dynamics of the wild type as well as mutant strains.

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Allyson Sgro

Postdoctoral Research Associate/NSRA Fellow/BWF CASI Fellow

I am interested in understanding how cells communicate and work together to form an organism to answer the ultimate question at what point a cell or group of cells is not just a biochemical machine but truly a lifeform.  For my Ph.D., I focused on developing methods to help biologists answer these questions.  My current research involves both developing novel methods to aid in this work and examining the emergence of collective behavior using the social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum.

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Shawn Little

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Embryonic development of multicellular organisms exhibits a high degree of reproducibility, such that patterning proceeds normally across a range of environmental and genetic conditions. The formation and interpretation of the Bicoid protein gradient in Drosophila embryos provides a rich set of opportunities for exploring the cell biologic processes underlying reproducibility and robustness in embryonic development. I am collaborating with Thomas’ lab in performing quantitative analysis of nuclear and cytoplasmic Bcd distribution in pre-syncytial embryos to determine the reproducibility of early gradients. I am investigating methods to examine the degree to which early Bcd distribution contributes to the highly reproducible nuclear Bcd gradient seen during syncytial stages.

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Hongtao Chen

Postdoctoral Research Associate

I have always been fascinated by the beauty of life forms and deeply appreciating the comparative traditions of biological research. Large collections and precise descriptions of biological patterns will not only yield answers to questions we already have, but also provide new questions and insights, as did the Linnean collections two hundred years ago or the explosion of omics data in the last two decades. Trained as a molecular geneticist, I was exited about the live-imaging platforms established by the Gregor lab. Applying these powerful tools, I am performing large-scale quantitative measurements on the key components of the Drosophila embryogenesis system. I believe that these measurements will provide an unprecedented chance to advance our understandings on the patterning mechanisms.

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Heinrich Grabmayr

Postdoctoral Research Associate

The development of an embryo – from a single cell to a highly organized creature – is a remarkable process. In the fruit fly, the major processes and interaction partners have been found and models of spatial patterning have been put forward. But how much of what is going on have we really understood? Can we correctly predict the behaviour? I am interested in developing microscopic techniques and performing experiments to get reliable quantitative data that will help us answer these questions from the molecular kinetics up to the macroscopic results. During my PhD, I built a multichannel STED microscope in Andreas Bauschs lab in Munich. With this device, I performed superresolution microscopy on cytoskeletal networks and prions in neuronal cell lines, among other specimens. I am excited about the current project because it brings together advanced fluorescence microscopy and the quantitative investigation of a biological system in its natural context.
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Michal Levo

Postdoctoral Research Associate/EMBO Fellow

Proper progression of development and differentiation relies on complex spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression. This is beautifully demonstrated in the early Drosophila embryo, where, within 2-3 hours, gene expression patterns restricted in time and space, give rise to a blueprint of the adult fly. Complementing my background in high-throughput genomic approaches, I am interested in developing and employing live-imaging technics established in the Gregor lab. By coupling these with genome editing, and quantitative analysis, I hope to capture dynamic properties of gene expression regulation and advance our mechanistic understanding; bridging the gap between microscopic processes and pattern formation.
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Benjamin Zoller

Postdoctoral Research Associate/SNF Fellow

Across the tree of life, it is extraordinary that development of entire organisms occurs at remarkably high precision given that the underlying molecular processes are inherently noisy. The embryo of the fruit fly presents the ideal system to tackle the consequences of transcriptional noise on cell fate organization during development. I am interested in understanding how precise macro-scale expression patterns emerge from discontinuous transcription at individual nuclei, and explore the physical limits of the patterning system in the Drosophila embryo. During my PhD, I focused on the stochastic transcriptional kinetics of mammalian genes and its impact on the noise. I developed biophysically-rooted methods to infer transcriptional kinetics from time-lapse measurements of short-lived bioluminescent reporters in single cells. The purpose of my current research is to characterize the transcriptional dynamics of patterning genes from imaging of single nuclei and elucidate the regulatory mechanisms that permit high precision patterning in early Drosophila embryos.
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Graduate Students

Hugh Wilson

QCB Graduate Student, Princeton University

I am a first year graduate student, an like many here I find developmental biology fascinating and full of unanswered questions. I am here to learn how to make quantitative measurements in live biological systems. My current project is to assist in the construction of a lattice light sheet microscope, which promises to expand the imaging capabilities of the group.
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Po-Ta Chen

QCB Graduate Student, Princeton University

I received my B.S. degree in physics from National Taiwan University, where I was involved in research projects on computational physics and theoretical chemistry. I’ve also had an one-year exchange experience in the US studying computer science and worked on data mining research. I especially enjoy the process of understanding complex systems by means of mathematical modeling and computer programming. I hope I can keep going on this line aiming to improve our understanding of biophysical phenomena in the context of genetics and developmental biology.
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Mircea Davidescu

EEB Graduate Student, Princeton University

I am a Ph.D student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and received a double-bachelor degree in Biochemistry and Computer Science from the University of New Brunswick, Canada in 2012. I am interested in collective decision-making and symmetry-breaking in groups, with emphasis on coordination in early diverged animals and tissues. I have received sponsored research internships on a variety of topics ranging from drug discovery at Simon Fraser University, quantum computing at Waterloo University, and 3D visualization at the Universite d’Ottawa. I have also written and published a history book in my spare time. I have held an NSERC Julie Payette scholarship and also currently have been awarded an NSERC PGS D fellowship.

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Fernando Rossine

QCB Graduate Student, Princeton University
Fernando is interested in how population structure conditions the evolution of decision making processes. In the search for answers, he has been probing the surprisingly intellectual amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. He has earned both his Bachelor’s degree in Biology and his Master’s degree in Ecology from the University of São Paulo. His Master’s thesis explored through computational approaches the relation between spatial patterning and speciation rates.
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Former TGLab Members

Julien Dubuis  Physics Graduate Student  (now Boston Consulting Group)

Hernan Garcia  Dicke Fellow  (now Professor at UC Berkeley – website)

Albert Lin  Physics Undergraduate  (now Biophysics Graduate Student at Harvard University)

Feng Liu  Postdoc  (now Professor at Peking University – website)

Mariela Petkova  Physics Undergraduate  (now Biophysics Graduate Student at Harvard University)

Martin Scheeler  Physics Undergraduate  (now Physics Graduate Student at Chicago University)

Eric Smith  Physics Graduate Student  (now Data Scientist)

Mikhail Tikhonov  Physics Graduate Student  (now Postdoc at Harvard University – website)

Darvin Yi  Physics Undergraduate  (now Computer Science Graduate Student at Stanford University)