The endoderm, one of the three primary germ layers in the early vertebrate embryo makes direct contributions to several organs including liver, pancreas, and the digestive and respiratory tracts. Correct endodermal gene expression is also required to pattern neighbouring tissues, such as the developing heart and craniofacial structures. The primary goal of my research is to understand how gene regulatory networks control the specification of endoderm and its diversification into a range of different cell types. A secondary objective is to understand how the endoderm acts to pattern surrounding tissues. To address these questions I use both zebrafish embryos and differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells as model systems, combined with genetic, functional genomic and transcriptiomic approaches.
An understanding of endoderm formation and its interactions with neighbouring cell populations will lead to refined regenerative medicine strategies for replacement of faulty hepatic and pancreatic tissues, and facilitate pre-natal diagnosis of cardiac defects.