Wnt signalling during avian facial morphogenesis

It is estimated that 1 in 800 babies is born with cleft lip with or without a cleft palate, making CL/P the most common craniofacial malformation in humans. The lip forms during the early embryonic period in utero, at which time the face is very different from its appearance after birth. Initially, there are separate swellings that surround the oral cavity, several of which grow together and fuse in order to make a continuous smooth upper lip. Dr. Poongodi Geetha-Loganathan is determining the molecules that are required for normal lip fusion, focusing the roles of Wnt genes in the control of facial growth. She is using chickens as a model for facial development, observing through windows made in the shell how the beak develops, and the role of different proteins or DNA. This work will help researchers find those changes in genes that give rise to clefts. In the long term these discoveries will lead to identification of new genes that cause human orofacial clefts, potentially suggesting ways to prevent this common birth defect.