Di-Poi Group

    Nicolas Di-Poi
    Group Leader
    Tel: +358-50-4160551
    Fax: +358-29-4159930
    Email: nicolas.di-poi -at- helsinki.fi

    Institute of Biotechnology
    Research Program in Developmental Biology
    P.O. Box 65
    00014 University of Helsinki

    Street address:
    Viikinkaari 1, Biocenter 3
    00710 Helsinki


croco eye science














Craniofacial regeneration: from Evo-Devo to therapeutic applications

Developmental & Stem Cell Biology has become a crucial field for the understanding of tissue regeneration and implementation of regenerative medicine. The ability to repair or regenerate tissue is a fundamental property present in all multicellular organisms, but there is tremendous diversity in how this process occurs within vertebrates. In particular, adult mammals (including conventional experimental models such as mice and rats) have limited regenerative capacities compared to other model organisms such as amphibians and reptiles, which offer the best examples of regeneration in vertebrates. Hence, studying such phyla constitutes one useful priority to improve general understanding of tissue development, patterning and regeneration, and may help identify new targets and/or new therapeutic approaches for regenerative medicine.

Our laboratory studies the molecular genetic basis responsible for the development, evolution and/or regeneration of different craniofacial tissues with unique regenerative capacity in non-mammalian vertebrates. Indeed, in contrast to the long-lasting interest in craniofacial development in mammals, and the numerous studies resulting from it, relatively little is known about the embryonic development and adult regeneration of these tissues in other vertebrate classes. The continuing interest in craniofacial research is quite justified since craniofacial diseases and disorders account for a considerable and increasing portion of health problems worldwide. In addition, craniofacial organs are the best targets for evolutionary and ecological studies, because of their excellent fossil record, and show high levels of morphological variation and innovation that will be of crucial importance to discover key evolutionary changes in tissue development.

The systematic approach of our laboratory to combine the two fields “Evolutionary and Developmental Biology (Evo-Devo)” and “Regenerative/Stem Cell Biology” is unique, and our goals are to provide an evolutionary context to the key signaling pathways of biological regeneration.


Craniofacial patterning: developmental mechanisms of evolutionary changes

Craniofacial development in vertebrates involves a complex series of molecular and morphogenetic events that generate a coordinated pattern of interconnected tissues, and result in species-specific craniofacial morphologies. We are also interested in understanding how the developmental genetic program has evolved to generate the impressive morphological diversity of particular craniofacial structures across amniotes (i.e., mammals, reptiles and birds), using new non-classical model organisms at key phylogenetic positions and showing high levels of morphological variation/innovation.


All our research projects include state-of-the-art integrative methods such as cellular biology, molecular embryology, genetics, phylogenomics, morphometrics and theoretical modeling, and they offer an interdisciplinary environment for research training. In addition, our Research Program in Developmental Biology has received the new status of Center of Excellence in Experimental and Computational Developmental Biology Research granted by the Academy of Finland (CoE 2014-2019).



Check our new publication in Nature Communications on snake skull origins !

Da Silva, F.O., Fabre, A.C., Savriama, Y., Ollonen, J., Mahlow, K., Herrel, A., Müller, J. & Di-Poï, N. The ecologocal origins of snakes as revealed by skull evolution. Nature Communications 9(1):376 (2018).

The ecological origin of snakes remains amongst the most controversial topics in evolution, with three competing hypotheses: fossorial; marine; or terrestrial. Here we use a geometric morphometric approach integrating ecological, phylogenetic, paleontological, and developmental data for building models of skull shape and size evolution and developmental rate changes in squamates. Our large-scale data reveal that whereas the most recent common ancestor of crown snakes had a small skull with a shape undeniably adapted for fossoriality, all snakes plus their sister group derive from a surface-terrestrial form with non-fossorial behavior, thus redirecting the debate toward an underexplored evolutionary scenario. Our comprehensive heterochrony analyses further indicate that snakes later evolved novel craniofacial specializations through global acceleration of skull development. These results highlight the importance of the interplay between natural selection and developmental processes in snake origin and diversification, leading first to invasion of a new habitat and then to subsequent ecological radiations.