Development & Regeneration

Our researchers are investigating important questions about how organisms develop —How does one generation beget the next? How does a single cell give rise to a complex organism?—and, with the help of new tools and innovative approaches, revealing answers that give us a better understanding of the fundamental aspects of life.

Image
Alternating pink and green ovals (these are planarians) with different parts of their bodies glowing.

Whitehead Member Peter Reddien has created a transcriptome atlas for the planarian flatworm.

Credit

Christopher Fincher/Whitehead Institute

Our Focus

In a multicellular organism, a single cell divides through the carefully orchestrated elaboration of a developmental program to form many different cell types that organize into discrete organs and tissues. Our researchers are tackling the questions of how organisms develop and reproduce. Other researchers are investing how, in some species, certain organs can restart their developmental programs after cells are lost or injured in order to regrow the missing parts--they can regenerate. Whitehead Institute’s developmental research may provide insight into medical issues that arise during the production of sex cells or during embryonic development, and its regeneration research can help us understand how bodies develop and may contribute to the field of regenerative medicine.

Image
Three-eyed planarians
Image
Dividing human mammary stem cells
Image
A green spike protrudes from a brown seed against a black background.

Rebecca Povilus

Image
Red blotches ringed with blue dots.

Peter Nicholls/Whitehead Institute

Image
X chromosome illustration

© Can Stock Photo Inc.

Major Achievements
Uncovering secrets of planarian regeneration

Whitehead Institute Member Peter Reddien has spent his career studying regenerative flatworms called planarians. His research has revealed the role of stem cells and of muscle in regrowing body parts.

Revealing how the cell regulates growth

Institute Member David Sabatini discovered the mTOR protein and mTOR growth regulatory pathway -- two components of the system that guides cellular metabolism. 

Finding hidden mechanisms of tissue patterning

Pulin Li’s postdoc work focused on a key developmental mechanism: morphogens. Li has discovered that morphogens could travel in confluent layers of cultured cells and form gradients.