12 January 2021
Throughout his career this curiosity has led Elias Barriga from one novel idea to another, each time understanding more about the migration process of neural crest cells. During his PhD in his home country of Chile, Barriga looked at how low oxygen levels influence the migration of neural crest cells during embryo development. Then, as a postdoctoral researcher in the UK, Barriga wanted to understand more about what was triggering the migration of these neural crest cells in the first place. “I became very enthusiastic about understanding more about the mechanical environment of neural crest cells,” he explains.
Eventually Barriga was able to show that the migration of neural crest cells was triggered by the stiffening of the tissue that they use as a migratory substrate. “This was the first case of mechanical signalling between two otherwise ‘unrelated’ tissues,” he says. Now establishing his own research group in Portugal at the Instituto Gulbenkian Ciência (IGC), Barriga is keen to understand the role electric fields have on collective cell migration. “We are confirming that embryos are like batteries,” he says. “We want to study how these bioelectrical inputs are generated and how they guide collective cell migration.”
EMBO has played an important role in Barriga’s career. “EMBO has given me the freedom to explore novel ideas since early in my postdoc,” says Barriga. “The EMBO Installation Grant will now enable me to establish a new line of research in my group as well as benefit my local research community by bringing cutting-edge research to the region.”