Everything you wanted to know about morphogenesis but were afraid to ask

Harvard University’s L. Mahadevan explains a key natural process that has led to Earth’s tremendous diversity of life
By Daniel Kitts - Published on May 05, 2021
L. Mahadevan is a professor of applied mathematics, physics, and organismic and evolutionary biology. (Harvard University)

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On May 5 at 7 p.m., the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo will be hosting a special webcast delving into a phenomenon essential to life as we know it: morphogenesis.

If you don’t know what morphogenesis is — I had to look it up myself — it’s the biological process through which a cell, tissue, or organism develops its shape and structure.

Watch the Perimeter Institute’s public lecture on morphogenesis here at 7 p.m. on May 5.

One example of morphogenesis is how the human brain develops its distinctive folds or wrinkles. In the womb, the brain starts out relatively smooth. But as it continues to develop within the confines of the human skull, the cells, through morphogenesis, begin to arrange themselves in characteristic folds. (This folding allows our skulls to hold more neurons than they otherwise would, which in part explains the human mind’s unique ability to develop complicated ideas — such as morphogenesis.) 

Why does it matter? By making sense of morphogenesis, we can better understand how life on this planet evolved into millions of different forms.

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In the May 5 webcast, Harvard University’s L. Mahadevan will explain how our growing knowledge of morphogenesis is allowing scientists to answer questions about life and evolution that have remained a mystery more than 150 years after Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The Perimeter Institute’s public lectures are usually held once a month. TVO.org is streaming the entire 2020-21 series.

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