Synthetic Morphogenesis: From Gene Circuits to Tissue Architecture – Course and Conference Office

EMBO | EMBL Symposium

Synthetic Morphogenesis: From Gene Circuits to Tissue Architecture


EMBO and EMBL are committed to sharing research advances and sustaining scientific interaction throughout the coronavirus pandemic. We are delighted to announce that the symposium is going virtual and invite you to join us online. The virtual symposium includes talks from invited speakers, short talk presenters, digital poster sessions and networking opportunities.

Information about accessing the conference platform (containing the live stream, access to the discussion forum and digital posters) will be sent to registered participants on Monday 15 March.

Symposium Overview

Morphogenesis, the generation of shape, is a topic of considerable interest in basic research with important implications in biomedicine. Across scales, from subcellular structures to multicellular systems shape is intimately linked with function. While traditional genetic approaches have allowed the identification of key components controlling individual morphogenetic processes, recent advances in synthetic biology are opening the possibility to engineer gene circuits, signal systems, and biomaterials to not only probe morphogenesis but also to re-construct it and direct it.

Synthetic morphogenesis is a novel and exciting field that requires collaboration among traditionally distinct scientific communities, from developmental biologists, to chemists, theoreticians and computational modellers. This symposium will bring together scientists from these different disciplines to discuss the extent to which cells/tissues/organs can be built de novo starting from isolated components.

Session Topics

  • Origin and evolution of life
  • Engineering life
  • Artificial cells/tissues
  • Developmental mechanisms
  • Patterning and self-organisation
  • Physics of life


Jan Brugués

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics


Denis Duboule

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Switzerland

Frank Jülicher

Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems


Scientific Organisers

Dora Tang

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics


Conference Officers

Lisa Trinh

EMBL Heidelberg


Diah Yulianti

EMBL Heidelberg



Final Programme

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  • The virtual conference includes live-streamed invited speakers and short talk presenters with Q&A sessions after each talk.
  • Information about accessing the conference platform (containing the live stream, access to the discussion forum and digital posters) will be sent to registered participants on Monday 15 March.
  • Access to the recorded talks will be available for 2 weeks after the end of the event.

The following time is used in the programme below:

  • Central European Time (CET): eg. Berlin, Amsterdam Paris

To find out the equivalent time zone in your location, enter Berlin, the CET programme time and your city into the Time Zone Converter.

Day 1 – Wednesday, 17 March 2021
12:45 – 13:00 (CET)Opening remarks
13:00 – 13:10 (CET)Meet the editors
13:10 – 15:25 (CET)Session 1 – Origin and evolution of life
Chairs: Justin Crocker and Vikas Trivedi
13:10 – 13:35 (CET)Evolutionary dynamics of the regulatory genome and expanding developmental opportunities
Douglas Erwin – Smithsonian Institution, USA
13:35 – 13:40 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
13:40 – 13:55 (CET)Compositional identity and robustness of compartmentalized self-reproducing catalytic RNAs
Sandeep Ameta – National Center for Biological Sciences, India
13:55 – 14:00 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
14:00 – 14:25 (CET)Shape dynamics and division of active droplets and active vesicles
Frank Jülicher – Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Germany
14:25 – 14:40 (CET)Short break
14:40 – 14:55 (CET)Reconstitution of ancient innovation transforms tissue architecture and sealing
Viola Noeske – Heidelberg University, Germany
14:55 – 15:00 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
15:00 – 15:25 (CET)Conservation and evolutionary flexibility in developmental gene regulatory networks
Isabelle Peter – California Institute of Technology, USA
15:25 – 15:30 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
15:30 – 16:00 (CET)Meet the speakers session 1 in individual Zoom rooms with:
Doug Erwin, Frank Jülicher and Isabelle Peter
16:00 – 17:30 (CET)Break and digital poster session 1
17:30 – 20:15 (CET)Session 2 – Engineering life
Chairs: Dora Tang and Stefano De Renzis
17:30 – 17:55 (CET)Cell dynamics of self-organising feather pattern fidelity
Marie Manceau – Collège de France, France
17:55 – 18:00 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
18:00 – 18:15 (CET)Programming mechano-chemical coupling between a reaction-diffusion system and active matter
Anis Senoussi – Sorbonne University and CNRS, France
18:15 – 18:20 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
18:20 – 18:45 (CET)Bottom-up design of protein self-organization
Petra Schwille – Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany
18:45 – 19:00 (CET)Short break
19:00 – 19:25 (CET)Physical biology of synthetic cells
Wilhelm Huck – Radboud University, The Netherlands
19:25 – 19:30 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
19:30 – 19:45 (CET)Integrated computational and in vitro systems for design and characterization of established and novel synthetic development systems
Leonardo Morsut – University of Southern California, USA
19:45 – 19:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
19:50 – 20:15 (CET)Programming self-organizing tissues
Wendell Lim – University of California, San Francisco, USA
20:15 – 20:20 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
20:20 – 20:50 (CET)Meet the speakers session 2 in individual Zoom rooms with:
Marie Manceau, Petra Schwille, Wilhelm Huck and Wendell Lim
20:50 – 21:00 (CET)Short break
21:00 – 22:00 (CET)Social programme: online speed networking
22:00 (CET)End of day 1 – Continued access to digital posters, networking and discussion platforms

Day 2 – Thursday, 18 March 2021
14:00 – 16:35 (CET)Session 3 – Artificial cells/tissues
Chairs: Vikas Trivedi and Justin Crocker
14:00 – 14:25 (CET)Synthetic gene regulatory networks for spatiotemporal pattern formation in populations of E. coli cells
Yolanda Schaerli – University of Lausanne, Switzerland
14:25 – 14:30 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
14:30 – 14:45 (CET)Self-organized perfusable capillary network in vitro: Experiment and modeling
Takashi Miura – Kyushu University, Japan
14:45 – 14:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
14:50 – 15:15 (CET)Cooperativity and the design of gene regulatory circuits
Ahmad (Mo) Khalil – Boston University, USA
15:15 – 15:30 (CET)Short break
15:30 – 15:45 (CET)Self-organized morphogenesis of an in vitro human neural tube
Eyal Karzbrun – University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
15:45 – 15:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
15:50 – 16:15 (CET)Optogenetic gene networks recapitulate dynamic cellular signal processing
Mustafa Khammash – ETH Zurich, Switzerland
16:15 – 16:20 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
16:20 – 16:50 (CET)Meet the speakers session 3 in individual Zoom rooms with:
Yolanda Schaerli, Ahmad S. Khalil and Mustafa Khammash
16:50 – 18:20 (CET)Break and digital poster session 2
18:20 – 20:35 (CET)Session 4 – Developmental mechanisms
Chairs: Vikas Trivedi and Stefano De Renzis
18:20 – 18:45 (CET)Engineering pancreatic tissue: Cells in time and space
Francesca M. Spagnoli – King’s College London, UK
18:45 – 18:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
18:50 – 19:05 (CET)Ex utero development of mouse embryos from pre-gastrulation to advanced organogenesis 
Alejandro Aguilera Castrejon – Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
19:05 – 19:10 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
19:10 – 19:35 (CET)Talk title to be announced
Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz – University of Cambridge, UK
19:35 – 19:50 (CET)Short break
19:50 – 20:05 (CET)Tackling the mesoscale of gastrulation movements: Developmental downregulation of cell cortex contractility accounts for the plasticity of migrating mesoderm
Francois Fagotto – CRBM, University of Montpellier and CNRS, France; McGill University, Canada
20:05 – 20:10 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
20:10 – 20:35 (CET)Design principles in pattern formation: Robustness and equivalences
Michael Stumpf – University of Melbourne, Australia
20:35 – 20:40 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
20:40 – 21:10 (CET)Meet the speakers session 4 in individual Zoom rooms with:
Francesca M. Spagnoli, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Michael Stumpf
21:10 – 21:20 (CET)Short break
21:20 – 22:20 (CET)Social programme: virtual bar mixer, open with Live Music by Lazy Fur
22:20 (CET)End of day 2 – Continued access to digital posters, networking and discussion platforms
Day 3 – Friday, 19 March 2021
12:45 – 13:00 (CET)Horizon Europe – European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder
Barbara Gerratana – European Innovation Council Pilot, Research Executive Agency
13:00 – 15:15 (CET)Session 5 – Patterning and self-organization
Chairs: Stefano De Renzis and Dagmar Iber
13:00 – 13:25 (CET)The cellular and molecular logic of spinal cord development
James Briscoe – The Francis Crick Institute, UK
13:25 – 13:30 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
13:30 – 13:45 (CET)Schemes for programmable pattern formation in compartmentalised systems with local signalling
Ulrich Gerland – Technical University of Munich, Germany
13:45 – 13:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
13:50 – 14:15 (CET)Artificial embryos to study long-range gene regulation
Denis Duboule – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Switzerland
14:15 – 14:30 (CET)Short break
14:30 – 14:45 (CET)Patterning and growth control in vivo by an engineered GFP gradient
Kristina S Stapornwongkul – The Francis Crick Institute, UK
14:45 – 14:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
14:50 – 15:15 (CET)Self assembly of multi-lineage human stem cell systems
Eric D. Siggia – The Rockefeller University, USA
15:15 – 15:20 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
15:20 – 15:50 (CET)Meet the speakers session 5 in individual Zoom rooms with:
James Briscoe, Denis Duboule and Eric D. Siggia
15:50 – 17:20 (CET)Break and digital poster session 3
17:20 – 20:15 (CET)Session 6 – Physics of life
Chairs: Dagmar Iber and Dora Tang
17:20 – 17:45 (CET)Talk title to be announced
Jan Brugués – Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Germany
17:45 – 17:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
17:50 – 18:05 (CET)Understanding the tubologenesis of bile canaliculi one cell at a time
Virgile Viasnoff – National University of Singapore, Singapore
18:05 – 18:10 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
18:10 – 18:25 (CET)Arrested coalescence of multicellular aggregates
David Oriola – EMBL Barcelona, Spain
18:25 – 18:30 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
18:30 – 18:55 (CET)Rigidity percolation as a structural basis of embryonic tissue phase transitions
Edouard Hannezo – Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Austria
18:55 – 19:10 (CET)Short break
19:10 – 19:25 (CET)Somite surface tension buffers imprecise segment lengths to ensure increased precision and left-right symmetry
Sundar R Naganathan -Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Switzerland
19:25 – 19:30 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
19:30 – 19:45 (CET)Engineering epithelial shape and mechanics from the bottom up
Ariadna Marín-Llauradó – Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Spain
19:45 – 19:50 (CET)Transition (setup and switch to the next live talk)
19:50 – 20:15 (CET)A field theory of axonal growth and guidance
Alain Goriely – University of Oxford, UK
20:15 – 20:25 (CET)Closing remarks
20:25 – 20:30 (CET)Transition (switch to individual Zoom rooms)
20:30 – 21:00 (CET)Meet the speakers session 6 in individual Zoom rooms with:
Jan Brugués, Edouard Hannezo and Alain Goriely
21:00 (CET)End of conference – Continued access to digital posters, networking and discussion platforms for 2 weeks after the conference

Practical Information

Registration Fees and Abstract Submission

Registration for this event is now closed. 

Registration Fees (include access to all of the talks, online group discussions, and help us cover our costs to run the event):

Academia190 Euro
PhD Student140 Euro
Industry240 Euro
EMBL StaffIntranet access

Accredited journalists may be eligible to register for a reduced press rate or in some cases for complimentary registration. Registrants may be required to provide accreditation or equivalent proof of press membership after registration. Please contact Lisa Trinh for more information.

Confirmation and Payment

Registration will be on a first-come first-served basis. Your place can only be confirmed after payment of the registration fee.
Types of payments accepted are international bank transfers (only up to 8 weeks before event) and credit card payments.

Abstract submission

Only registered participants are eligible to submit an abstract. We only accept online abstract submissions. 

After registration you can submit your abstract via a separate link that will be provided in the email confirmation. Alternatively, you can access the link on the confirmation page directly after registering. The same login credentials are used for both processes.

Please note

Title: The title should not exceed 20 words. Only the first word of the title should start with a capital letter and the rest of the title should be in lowercase.

Authors and Affiliations: Please fill in the author’s details as requested in the online form. The compulsory details are: First Name, Last Name, Organisation Name (Affiliation or Company), Country and Email. Mark only one author as the role of First author and please don’t forget to indicate who will be presenting. The order of the authors will be listed as follows: First Author, Co-First Author (alphabetically if multiple), co-author(s) (in the order added by the submitter).

Presentation Types: When submitting your abstract, you can apply for an oral or poster presentation. A selection process will take place with the results announced 2-3 weeks after the abstract submission deadline.

Please check our FAQs pages for further information on how to submit an abstract.

Financial Assistance

Financial Assistance

Registration Fee Waivers

All academic and student registrants are invited to apply for a registration fee waiver, provided by the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme and EMBO. The registration fee waiver covers the registration sum that you have paid to attend the meeting. Conference participants are not required to pre-pay the registration fee to be selected for a fee waiver for a virtual meeting. If you have already paid the registration fee and are awarded a fee waiver, it will be reimbursed after the meeting. Course participants are required to pay the course fee in advance, which will then be reimbursed after the course to the fee waiver recipients.

Childcare Grants
For participants with children, there is the possibility to apply for a childcare grant provided by the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme, to offset childcare costs incurred by participants or speakers when participating at a virtual event. Eligible costs include fees for a babysitter or childcare facility or travel costs for a care giver. Please note that priority will be given to early stage researchers. A maximum amount of 500 EUR can be awarded per participant selected for the virtual childcare grant. Costs will be reimbursed after the meeting only once a reimbursement form and original receipts have been received. In order to apply for this grant, you must be registered by the abstract submission deadline.


Registration Fee Waivers

You may apply for financial assistance when submitting your abstract for this conference. In your application you will be asked to answer questions regarding your motivation for applying, reasons why your lab cannot fund your attendance and how your attendance will make a difference to your career. Application for financial support will not affect the outcome of your registration application.

Childcare Grants

Participants registered by the abstract deadline will be emailed information about the childcare grants. You should apply for the grant by the deadline specified in the email.


The scientific organisers will select the recipients of registration fee waivers during the abstract selection process. Results will be announced approximately 3 – 4 weeks before the event start date. Selection results do not impact your admission to the meeting. Registration fee waiver selection is based on your current work or study location, your motivation for applying, the reasons for needing financial support and the impact this event will have on your career. Childcare grants are allocated based on career stage, with priority given to early stage researchers.

Further details

For further information about financial assistance please refer to the FAQ page.

Virtual Participation Guidelines


Please do:

  • Use the event-specific hashtag #EESmorphoG as communicated during the event for any related tweets
  • Tweet unless the speaker specifically says otherwise
  • Be mindful of unpublished data
  • Be respectful in tone and content

Please don’t:

  • Share the live stream, poster session or conference platform access links with others
  • Broadcast the conference to unregistered participants
  • Capture, transmit or redistribute data presented at the meeting unless presenter gives explicit consent
  • Use offensive language in your posts
  • Engage in rudeness or personal attacks

Additional information can be found in our Code of Conduct.

Health and well-being

It is important to stay healthy and move around, especially when you are attending an event virtually. We have put together a few coffee break stretches and yoga videos. You can find these under ‘resources’ on the conference platform.

How to ask questions

Please use the Q&A function. It is possible to send a direct message to participants, poster presenters, and speakers within the conference platform.

If you have any other questions, you can go to the Help Desk on the conference platform. Click on ‘more’ on the top menu and click Help Desk. 

Time zone

The programme is planned based on Central European Time (CET) or Central European Summer Time (CEST) unless otherwise stated. As many virtual participants are attending from around the world, we do our best to accommodate as many timezones as possible when creating the programme. Please take your time zone into consideration when planning your attendance.

Virtual event platforms

We are using a virtual event platform for this conference. More information about the platform will be shared ahead of the conference.


Media partners:

Development, a The Company of Biologists journal

Molecular Systems Biology, an EMBO Press journal

Open Biology, a Royal Society journal

Sponsorship Opportunities

We offer a variety of event sponsoring possibilities, with the flexibility to select a set sponsorship package or combine individual sponsorship options to suit your event budget. Discounts are available for companies sponsoring multiple events at EMBL Heidelberg. View other conferences, or contact sponsorship@embl.de for further information.

If you are interested in becoming a media partner of this event, please visit our media partnerships webpage.

Date: 17 - 19 Mar 2021

Location: Virtual


Abstract submission: Closed


Contact: Lisa Trinh

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