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Elias Barriga Group

Biophysical Mechanisms of Morphogenesis

Portrait Elias Barriga

What synchronises tissue morphogenesis?

A question that inspired research in our group is how collective behaviours are so finely coordinated that cells within tissues move and differentiate with impressively high reproducibility in both time and space. Thus, our long-term goal as a group is to assist the field by training future generations and by producing data sets and tools that will contribute to the conception of a comprehensive view of the mechanisms underlying the robustness of tissue morphogenesis.

In our multidisciplinary group we are particularly interested on how biophysical quantities (like mechanical or electrical stimuli) can emerge from tissue interplay and how these biophysical stimuli are molecularly integrated into cells to influence collective behaviours such as migration and differentiation, to synchronise morphogenesis (see figure 1). For this we have generated and adapted toolboxes that allow us to measure and modify biophysical properties of living tissues. Using these tools, we are contributing to elucidate the mechano-molecular feedback loops that trigger for the onset of collective movements during embryogenesis (see figure 2). More recently we incorporated tools that enabled us to measure and modify endogenous electric fields to explore the bioelectrical nature of collective cell behaviours in living tissues (see figure 3).

In our group we use Xenopus laevis (frog) and zebrafish as animal systems. To study collective behaviours in embryos we look at cranial neural crest cells as well as hatching gland cells, and to study biophysical control of tissue repair use both frog and fish larval tail regeneration assays. Our cutting-edge toolbox includes in vivo-Atomic Force Microscope, self-referring vibrating probes systems, ionophore probes; glass micro-electrodes, hydrogels, and multiple microfabrication approaches. This, in combination with our molecular tools allow us not only to measure biophysical properties in vivo, but also to modify these properties to quantitatively assess their role in collective cell behaviour during tissue morphogenesis.

Elias Barriga Research: Figure 1
Figure 1: Morphogenetic synchronization and robustness cycles
Elias Barriga Research: Figure 2
Figure 2: Balancing cell to substrate mechanics is essential for the onset of collective cell migration
Elias Barriga Research: Figure 3
Figure 3: Stretch induced endogenous electric fields drive collective electrotaxis in vivo via Vsp1

Future Projects and Goals

Our future projects are focused to better understanding the mechanisms underlying tissue morphogenesis in physiology and disease. Projects aim to explore mechanisms of electrical and mechanical force propagation across multicellular clusters; synchronisation of collective cell behaviours; molecular mechanisms of electrical and mechanical signalling (from the environment to the nuclei and all the way back); metabolic states and their relationship to collective behaviours in morphogenesis; developing traction force analysis in vivo by using hatching gland cells as a system, etc. Projects in our lab are explored in developmental or regenerative contexts by using Xenopus and zebrafish as well as in pathological conditions by using ad-hoc cell lines. We combine tools from the electrophysiology, mechanobiology, omics, cell and molecular biology fields. We are always happy to discuss our new ideas with students interested to join our group.

Methodological and Technical Expertise

  • Xenopus laevis and zebrafish cell, developmental and regenerative biology (imaging and quantitative analyses)
  • Biophysical measurements (Atomic Force Microscopy in embryos; electric current and voltage measurements in embryos)
  • Perturbation of mechanical and electrical signals and pathways in vivo and ex vivo
  • Microfabrication for durotaxis, chemotaxis and electrotaxis setups and their ex vivo and in vivo application
  • Molecular biology (chromatin immunoprecipitation from embryonic tissues, RNA sequencing from tissues; molecular cloning, etc)


Since Sept 2023
Research group leader at the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life, TU Dresden, Germany

Since 2022
EMBO Young Investigator

Since 2021
ERC grantee

Research group leader at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), Portugal

Postdoctoral Researcher, University College London, United Kingdom

PhD work at Universidad Andres Bello, Chile

Selected Publications

Jaime A Espina, Marilia H Cordeiro, Elias H Barriga
Tissue interplay during morphogenesis
Semin Cell Dev Biol 147, 12–23 doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2023.03.010 (30 September 2023)

Cristian L. Marchant, Abdul N. Malmi-Kakkada, Jaime A. Espina, Elias H. Barriga
Cell clusters softening triggers collective cell migration in vivo
Nature Materials 21, 1314–1323 doi: 10.1038/s41563-022-01323-0 (15 August 2022)

Sofia Moreira, Jaime A Espina, Joana E Saraiva, Elias H Barriga
A Toolbox to Study Tissue Mechanics In Vivo and Ex Vivo
Methods Mol Biol 2438, 495–515, doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-2035-9_29 (11 February 2022)

Fernando Ferreira, Sofia Moreira, Elias H. Barriga
Stretch-induced endogenous electric fields drive neural crest directed collective cell migration in vivo
bioRxiv 2021.10.11.463916 doi: 10.1101/2021.10.11.463916 (12 October 2021)

Elias H. Barriga, Kristian Franze, Guillaume Charras, Roberto Mayor
Tissue stiffening coordinates morphogenesis by triggering collective cell migration in vivo
Nature 554, 523–527 doi: 10.1038/nature25742 (14 February 2018)