Control of organ growth and identity during development and evolution

Control of organ growth and identity during development and evolution


How do organs control their size? Animals are characterized by their morphology –to such an extent that most often we recognize different species for their unique shapes and sizes (a manifestation of the specialized functions of the animal’s organs). Since organs are the product of development, mechanisms must exist to ensure the constancy of organ size and shape within a given species. However, these mechanisms need also to be plastic, as organ morphology has varied –and in some instances, very remarkably- during evolution. Despite this being a long-standing question in biology –how do organs know their size, and how do they determine when to stop growing- we are not close to have a definite answer.

In the lab we investigate the mechanisms that regulate organ size by studying the eyes of flies. Eyes, because they are specialized sensory structures of great biological relevance; and specifically of flies because eyes have undergone an extraordinary morphological and functional diversification within this huge insect group –the diptera. Our workhorse is the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, one of the most powerful model organisms, and use it as paradigm from which to explore the eyes of close and far relatives. Exploring the mechanisms of organ growth control is interesting beyond the realm of developmental and evolutionary biology, as they are relevant for understanding the causes of congenital diseases and cancer, as well as for organ engineering.

Our research uses a variety of approaches, including developmental genetics, genomics, genome editing, quantitative imaging, and mathematical modeling.


Max Sánchez-Aragón has launched his website, where Max will be uploading Image Analysis Software he has been developing for some of our projects. Go, visit and try the software!! May 22: New software UPDATES.

June 24, 2019. The CASARES lab is recruiting a new PhD student!  Our group welcomes scientists from all walks of life (experimental, computational, theoretical) interested in the general question of how genomes encode organ size and form and how evolution re-shapes organs. The successful candidate will develop a research project within one of the following areas: (1) Control of organ size variation and precision using the eyes of flies as model or (2) Genomic origins of evolutionary novelties in the visual system in a new model insect.

If you are interested, please, send an informal inquiry to attaching your CV. Formal applications start on September 2019. Approximate starting date: May 2020.

June 12, 2019. New PAPER from the lab. A lot of work from Max Sánchez-Aragón and Julia Cantisán, in collaboration with M.Carmen Lemos (Physics, U. Sevilla) and with star contributions from all time members of the Casares lab (Carlos M. Luque, Carla S. Lopes and Catarina Brás-Pereira). “A Toggle-Switch and a Feed-Forward Loop Engage in the Control of the Drosophila Retinal Determination Gene Network”

March 20, 2019. Celebrating two new papers. From left to right: Giulio Masiero (master’s student, neurosciences), Lorena Sarmiento (research stay, bioengineering), Tomás Navarro (co-author), Vítor Pérez (master student), Isabel Almudí (Associate researcher, main author), Antonella Iannini (lab manager and co-author) and Ana Alcaína (recently moved across the hallway to the López Ríos Lab). Diana, the main author of the “Hh as a metronome” paper is working hard writing up her PhD. The same applies to Max. If you want to have a pre-peek at the two papers, check out their BioRxiv version at:

Dynamic Hh signaling can generate temporal information during tissue patterning

Establishment of the mayfly Cloeon dipterum as a new model system to investigate insect evolution

and the OA EvoDevo paper already out (03/04)

July 6, 2018. And Manuel Jiménez passed his Final Grade Research Project (“TFG”) with flying colors. Congrats to Manuel as well.

July 4, 2018. Ana Alcaina and Javier Figueras defended their Masters theses -glorious seminars! and very good marks! Congrats to both.

March 2, 2018. Nico Posnien (right), from Göttingen University, visited the lab. Here discussing eye size with Max Sánchez-Aragón

January 30, 2018 (already!): Buzzing lab

Dec 14: Interested in understanding how organ size is controlled during development and regeneration? or how size varies during evolution? Come and join us: apply for a Juan de la Cierva postdoctoral contract. Please, send a letter of interest plus CV to BEFORE Dec 30.

Dec 12: After Xmas lunch drinks. Great lab!!

Isabel Almudí and Fer Casares attended this year’s EVODEVO UK meeting at the Natural History Museum.