skip to content

Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience



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 properties and constraints 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 is  interdisciplinary, 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)
Jenny Evans (Lab Manager)
Nathan Hervieux (Research Associate)
Claire Lye (Research Associate)
Alexander Nestor-Bergmann (Herchel-Smith Postdoctoral Fellow)
Elena Scarpa (Herchel-Smith Postdoctoral Fellow)
Tom Sharrock (3rd year PhD student from BBSRC DTP program)

(recent past group members: Huw Naylor, Tara Finegan, 

Main collaborators

Clare Buckley (PDN)

Daniel St Johnston (Gurdon Institute)

Jocelyn Etienne (Laboratoire Interdisciplaire de Physique, Grenoble, France)

Alexander Fletcher (School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield)




Key publications: 
Lye CM, Blanchard GB, Evans J, Nestor-Bergmann A, Sanson B. (2023) Drosophilia axis extension is robust to an orthogonal pull by invaginating mesoderm. bioRxiv. 07.18.549479; doi:
Blanchard GB, Scarpa E, Muresan L, Sanson B. (2023). Mechanical stress combines with planar polarised patterning during metaphase to orient embryonic epithelial cell divisions. bioRxiv. 2023.07.12.548728; doi:

Sharrock TE, Blanchard GB, Evans J, Sanson B. 2022 Different temporal requirements for the LRR transmembrane receptors Tartan and Toll-2 in the formation of contractile interfaces at compartmental boundaries. Development doi: 10.1242/dev.200292. PMID: 36178136

Nestor-Bergmann A, Blanchard GB, Hervieux N, Fletcher AG, Étienne J, Sanson B. 2022 Adhesion-regulated junction slippage controls cell intercalation dynamics in an Apposed-Cortex Adhesion Model. PLoS Computational Biology doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009812. PMID: 35089922.

Fierling, J John A, Delorme B, Torzynski A, Blanchard GB, Lye CM, Malandain G, Sanson BJocelyn Étienne J, Philippe Marmottant, P Catherine Quilliet, Q Matteo Rauzi M. 2022 Embryo-scale epithelial buckling forms a propagating furrow that initiates gastrulation. Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-30493-3. PMID: 35688832

Lang, L. F., Dutta, N., Scarpa, E., Sanson, B., Schönlieb, C. B., & Étienne, J. 2021. Joint Motion Estimation and Source Identification using Convective Regularisation with an Application to the Analysis of Laser Nanoablations. In Time-dependent Problems in Imaging and Parameter Identification (pp. 191-227). Springer, Cham.

Sharrock TE, Sanson B. (2020). Cell sorting and morphogenesis in early Drosophila embryos. Semin Cell Dev Biol.;S1084-9521(20)30037-9. doi:10.1016/j.semcdb.2020.07.010
T. Finegan*N. Hervieux*A. Nestor-BergmannA. FletcherG. BlanchardB. Sanson (2019)The tricellular vertex-specific adhesion molecule Sidekick facilitates polarised cell intercalation during Drosophila axis extension. PLOS biology. 

Scarpa, E., Finet, C., Blanchard, G. B., & Sanson, B. (2018). Actomyosin-Driven Tension at Compartmental Boundaries Orients Cell Division Independently of Cell Geometry In Vivo. Developmental Cell.

Urbano, J. M., Naylor, H. W., Scarpa, E., Mureşan, L., & Sanson, B. (2018). Suppression of epithelial folding at actomyosin-enriched compartment boundaries downstream of Wingless signalling in Drosophila. Development, 145(8), dev155325.

Dicko, M., Saramito, P., Blanchard, G. B., Lye, C. M., Sanson, B. and Etienne, J. (2017) Geometry can provide long-range mechanical guidance for embryogenesis. PloS Computational Biology

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.

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 Dahmann.

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 Drosophila, 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.

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 libraryDevelopment, 141: 3994- 4005

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

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

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

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]

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 intercalationNat 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

Teaching and Supervisions


Pt IA MVST  VAP, Pt II NST Mod P4/M8, Graduate 4YPhDDevMech

Professor in Developmental Morphogenesis
Wellcome Trust Investigator
Picture of  Bénédicte Sanson

Contact Details

+44 (0) 1223 333893, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 333840
Email address: