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Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute


128 Martinez AriasProfessor Alfonso Martinez-Arias

The structure and function of living matter

Departmental Affiliation: Department of Genetics




We are interested in the structure and function of Living Matter with a special interest in developmental processes which create tissues and organs from single cells through the interactions of intrinsic programmes of gene expression with chemical and mechanical signalling. Over the last few years we have developed gastruloids, a new model system for the study of early mammalian development.

When small, specified numbers of mouse Pluripotent Stem cells (PSCs) are placed in defined culture conditions, they aggregate and initiate a sequence of pattern forming events mirroring the events that take place in the embryo: symmetry breaking, gastrulation like movements, axial specification and germ layer organization. These structures, that we call Gastruloids, can be cultured for up to seven days to reach a stage comparable to E9.0 in the mouse embryo and exhibit a similar organization of organ primordia including two orthogonal axes and bilateral asymmetries.

Gastruloids are a new model system for mammalian development that can be used to gain insights into the process of gastrulation and the emergence of the body plan. Recently we have extended this model to human PSCs.

We work at the interface of developmental biology as believe that it is here that we shall uncover processes that will improve our ability to controls the differentiation of stem cell into specific cell types and are interested in questions about

  • Stochastic and deterministic processes in cell fate decisions
  • Cell and tissue dynamics during morphogenesis
  • Mechanochemical signalling in cell ensembles.


Alfonso Martinez-Arias research 2020



1. van den Brink, S., Baillie-Johnson, P., Balayo, T., Hadjantonakis, AK., Nowotschin, S., Turner, DA. And & Martinez Arias, A. (2014) Symmetry breaking, germ layer specification and axial organisation in aggregates of mouse ES cells. Development 141, 4231-4242.

2. Turner DA, Girgin M, Alonso-Crisostomo L, Trivedi V, Baillie-Johnson P3, Glodowski CR, Hayward PC, Collignon J, Gustavsen C, Serup P, Steventon B, P Lutolf M, Martinez Arias A. (2017) Anteroposterior polarity and elongation in the absence of extraembryonic tissues and spatialy organized signaling in Gastruloids, mammalian embryonic organoids. Development 144, 3894-3906

3. Beccari, L., Moris, N., Girgin, M., Turner, D., Baillie-Johnson, P., Cossy, A.C., Lutolf, M., Duboule, D. and Martinez Arias, A. (2018) Multiaxial self organization properties of mouse embryonic stem cells gastruloids. Nature 562, 272-276.

4. van den Brink, S., Alemany, A., van Batenburg, V. Moris, N., Anlas, K., Blotenburg, M., Turner, D., Vivié, J., Martinez Arias, A. and Oudenaarden, A. (2020) Single cell and spatial transcriptomics reveals somitogenesis in gastruloids. Nature doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2024-3.


External links


CSCI collaborator

Jenny Nichols