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Bénédicte Sanson

Morphogenesis of early embryos: in vivo mechanisms for cell sorting and collective cell movement
Bénédicte  Sanson

University Lecturer

Wellcome Trust Investigator

Bénédicte Sanson is accepting applications for PhD students.

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333893, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 333840

Research Interests

Understanding how a 3D tissue is built from the genetic blueprint is a key frontier in biology. In addition to some of the genes known to be important in specific aspects of morphogenesis, physical constraints and emerging physical properties play a major role in building tissues. As geneticists and developmental cell biologists interested in morphogenesis, we aim to understand how the genetic inputs integrate with the mechanical properties of the cells and tissues to produce form.

We focus our research on two fundamental and conserved morphogenetic phenomena, axis extension and compartmental boundary formation, for which we have evidence of an integration between the function of genes and the action of mechanical forces in the developing tissues. We study these in a model organism, the Drosophila embryo, because this is one of the simplest (and cheapest) multicellular models that are genetically tractable. In addition, this embryo is very accessible to in vivo imaging, develops fast and is increasingly exploited as a paradigm for the mathematic modeling of morphogenesis.

We analyse a window of development that encompasses both axis extension and compartmental boundary formation (Diagram). Axis extension starts shortly after gastrulation with the trunk ectoderm (the germ-band) elongating in the anteroposterior axis. Compartmental boundaries separating each parasegments form during germ-band extension. Our research uses interdisciplinary approaches combining genetic, quantitative and in silico approaches to find novel and universal morphogenetic rules.


Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, Cambridge Newton Trust

Group members

Guy Blanchard (Senior Research Associate)
Edo Dzafic (Rotation student from WT 4 year PhD program in Developmental Biology)
Tara Finegan (PhD student from WT 4 year PhD program in Developmental Biology)
Claire Lye (Research Associate)
Huw Naylor (Research Assistant and Lab Manager)
Elena Scarpa (Research Associate)

Recent past group members


Richard Adams (PDN)
Jocelyn Etienne (Laboratoire Interdisciplaire de Physique, Grenoble, France)
Alexandre Fletcher (School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield)
Alexandre Kabla (Dept. of Engineering)

Key Publications

Tetley*, R.J., Blanchard*§, G.B., Fletcher, A.G., Adams, R.J. and B. Sanson§(2016) Unipolar distributions of junctional Myosin II identify cell stripe boundaries that drive cell intercalation throughout Drosophila axis extension. Elife;5:e12094.

Lye CM, Blanchard, GB, Naylor, HW, Mureşan, L, Huisken, J, Adams, R J, & Sanson, B (2015), Mechanical Coupling between Endoderm Invagination and Axis Extension in Drosophilal, PLoS Biology, 13(11), e1002292.

Lye CM, Naylor HW, Sanson B, (2014), Subcellular localisations of the CPTI collection of YFP-tagged proteins in Drosophila embryos, Development, 141: 4006-4017

Monier B, Pelissier-Monier A, Brand AH, Sanson B, (2010), An actomyosin-based barrier inhibits cell mixing at compartmental boundaries in Drosophila embryos, Nat Cell Biol, 12: 60-65 [Paper evaluated as "exceptional" by Faculty1000. Highlighted in Martin AC, Wieschaus EF, Nat Cell Biol, 2010 12: 5-7; Baumann K, Nature Reviews in Molecular Cell Biology, 2010, 11: 4-5; The Scientist, 2010, 24: 67; Editor's choice in Development]

Butler LC, Blanchard GB, Kabla AJ, Lawrence NJ, Welchman DP, Mahadevan L, Adams RJ, Sanson B, (2009), Cell shape changes indicate a role for extrinsic tensile forces in Drosophila germ-band extension, Nat Cell Biol, 11: 859-864 [Paper evaluated as "must read" by Faculty1000. Awarded the international 2010 Drosophila Image Award]


Other publications

Pélissier-Monier A., Sanson B.§ and Monier B. (2016), Performing Chromophore-assisted laser inactivation in Drosophila embryos using GFP, Drosophila: Methods and Protocols, 2nd edition, Editor: Christian Dahman. In press.

Lowe N, Rees JS, Roote J, Ryder E, Armean IM, Johnson G, Drummond E, Spriggs H, Drummond J, Magbanua JP, Naylor H, Sanson B, Bastock R, Huelsmann S, Trovisco V, Landgraf M, Knowles-Barley S, Armstrong JD, White-Cooper H, Hansen C, Roger G. Phillips, The UK Drosophila Protein Trap Screening Consortium, Lilley KS, Russell S, St Johnston D, (2014), Analysis of the expression patterns, subcellular localisations and interaction partners of Drosophila proteins using a pigP protein trap library, Development, 141: 3994- 4005

St Johnston D, Sanson B, (2011), Epithelial polarity and morphogenesis, Curr Opin Cell Biol, 23:540-546

Lye C, Sanson B, (2011), Tension and epithelial morphogenesis in Drosophila early embryos, Curr Top Dev Biol, 95: 145-187

Monier B, Pélissier-Monier A, Sanson B, (2011), Establishment and maintenance of compartmental boundaries: role of contractile actomyosin barriers, Cell Mol Life Sci, 68: 1897-910

Blanchard GB, Kabla AJ, Schultz NL, Butler LC, Sanson B, Gorfinkiel N, Mahadevan L, Adams RJ, (2009), Tissue tectonics: morphogenetic strain rates, cell shape change and intercalation, Nat Methods, 6: 458-464 [Awarded the international 2010 Drosophila Image Award]

Chandraratna D, Lawrence N, Welchman D, Sanson B, (2007), An in vivo model of apoptosis: linking cell behaviours and caspase substrates in embryos lacking DIAP1, J Cell Sci, 120: 2594-2608

Desbordes SC, Chandraratna D, Sanson B, (2005), A screen for genes regulating Wingless distribution in Drosophila embryos, Genetics, 170: 749-766

Sanson B, (2004), Do glypicans play a role in Wingless signalling in Drosophila? Development, 131: 2511-2513

Desbordes S, Sanson B, (2003), The glypican Dally-like is required for Hedgehog signalling in the embryonic epidermis of Drosophila, Development, 130: 6245-6255

Sanson B, (2001), Generating patterns from fields of cells: examples from Drosophila segmentation, EMBO Rep, 2: 1083-1088

Sanson B, Alexandre C, Fascetti N, Vincent J-P, (1999), Engrailed and hedgehog make the range of Wingless asymetric in Drosophila embryos, Cell, 98: 207-216

Greaves S, Sanson B, White P, Vincent J-P, (1999), A screen to identify genes interacting with armadillo, the Drosophila homologue of Beta-Catenin, Genetics, 153: 1753-1766

Sanson B, White P, Vincent, J-P, (1996), Uncoupling Cadherin-based adhesion from wingless signaling in Drosophila, Nature, 383: 627-630

Lawrence PA, Sanson B, Vincent J-P, (1996), Compartments, wingless and engrailed: patterning the ventral epidermis of Drosophila embryos, Development, 122: 4095-4103

Plain English

During animal development a single cell, the egg, divides repeatedly to form a ball of cells. This ball then elongates to form the main body axis (gastrulation), which soon becomes divided into repeated regions (segmentation). In humans, defects in body axis elongation during gastrulation can lead to neural tube problems (such as spina bifida). The human vertebrate column is made from the embryonic regions (somites) generated by segmentation. To understand these essential embryonic tissue shape changes, we study tissue elongation and segmentation in the fly Drosophila because this is the simplest and cheapest multicellular model organism that is genetically tractable.

Above: Lab retreat October 2015: From left to right, Guy Blanchard, Alexandre Fletcher, Claire Lye, Tara Finegan, Bénédicte Sanson, Huw Naylor, Elena Scarpa, Jocelyn Etienne and Jose-Maria Urbano.

Above: Time-lapse movie showing a parasegmental boundary in a MRLC-GFP embryo, with the MyoII cable coloured artificially in green. Dividing boundary cells (stars) deform the MyoII cable (arrows) and transiently invade the opposite compartment. After division, the daughter cells always go back to their compartment of origin and the boundary straightens out (Movie S2 from Monier et al, 2010, Nature Cell Biology, vol 12: 60-5)


Above: Live Drosophila embryo filmed during gastrulation, with the apical cell membranes labelled with Green Fluorescent Protein and automatically tracked through time. In this movie frame, the multicoloured tracks represent the trajectory of the centre of each cell over the previous four minutes (2010 Drosophila Image Award)