Understanding by Building

Through coordinated tissue morphogenesis and cell specialization, organ development generates complex structures tailored for diverse physiological functions. For example, lungs, kidneys, and various glands generate tree-like branched structures, where numerous end buds specialized for air exchange, blood filtration, or secretion are connected by a hierarchical ductal system. The mature branched structure arises from a single epithelial bud at the embryonic stage through branching morphogenesis, which requires the dynamic interplay between cells and the extracellular matrix. We are only beginning to understand the principles of branching morphogenesis and other processes in organ development, which will be crucial for developing gene, cell, and tissue engineering-based therapies for defective organs.

We combine embryonic and reconstitution approaches to discover principles of organ development. We employ live imaging, sequencing, spatial transcriptomics, genetic perturbation, and targeted protein degradation to probe native organ development, primarily (but not limited to) using the mouse salivary gland as a versatile model. Driven by the “understanding by building” philosophy, we always try to reconstitute key biological processes from neutral building blocks. Whenever applicable, we use mathematical or physical modeling to theorize our findings. We aspire to pave the way of building customizable organs from the bottom up.

Click on the movies to learn more:


Cell dynamics

Matrix dynamics


Shaohe Wang


Group Leader

Pronouns: He/Him

Di Wu


Research Scientist

Pronouns: She/Her

Angelo Morales


Postdoc Associate

Pronouns: He/Him

Yihe Wu

Visiting Undergrad Scholar

Pronouns: He/Him

Bella Smith


Lab Coordinator

Pronouns: She/Her


Come work with us!

Undergraduate Scholar


Come work with us!

Visiting Scientist

Awesome Scientists

Who worked with us

Select Publications

See Shaohe’s Google Scholar for a complete list
*co-first, #co-corresponding

Di Wu, Kenneth M. Yamada#, Shaohe Wang#. Tissue Morphogenesis Through Dynamic Cell and Matrix Interactions (2023) Annu. Rev. Cell Dev. Biol. [Author Manuscript PDF]

Shaohe Wang#, Kazue Matsumoto, Samantha R. Lish, Alexander X. Cartagena-Rivera, Kenneth M. Yamada#. Budding epithelial morphogenesis driven by cell-matrix versus cell-cell adhesion (2021) Cell [NIDCR News] [Dev Cell Spotlight] [Figshare Data] [Github Repo] [Addgene Plasmids]

Shaohe Wang. Single Molecule RNA FISH (smFISH) in Whole‐Mount Mouse Embryonic Organs (2019) Current Protocols in Cell Biology

Shaohe Wang*, Stacy D. Ochoa*, Renat N. Khaliullin*, Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Jeffrey M. Hendel, Zhiling Zhao, Ronald Biggs, Andrew D. Chisholm, Arshad Desai, Karen Oegema, Rebecca A. Green. A high-content imaging approach to profile C. elegans embryonic development (2019) Development

Shaohe Wang#, Rei Sekiguchi, William P Daley, Kenneth M Yamada#. Patterned cell and matrix dynamics in branching morphogenesis (2017) Journal of Cell Biology (Review Article) [Cover Highlight]

Shaohe Wang, Ngang Heok Tang, Pablo Lara-Gonzalez, Zhiling Zhao, Dhanya K. Cheerambathur, Bram Prevo, Andrew D. Chisholm, Arshad Desai, Karen Oegema. A toolkit for GFP-mediated tissue-specific protein degradation in C. elegans (2017) Development [Addgene Plasmids]

Adina Gerson-Gurwitz, Shaohe Wang, Shashank Sathe, Rebecca Green, Gene W. Yeo, Karen Oegema, Arshad Desai. A Small RNA-Catalytic Argonaute Pathway Tunes Germline Transcript Levels to Ensure Embryonic Divisions (2016) Cell [UCSD News]

Sophie Quintin, Shaohe Wang, Julien Pontabry, Ambre Bender, François Robin, Vincent Hyenne, Frédéric Landmann, Christelle Gally, Karen Oegema, Michel Labouesse. Non-centrosomal epidermal microtubules act in parallel to LET-502/ROCK to promote C. elegans elongation (2016) Development

Shaohe Wang, Di Wu, Sophie Quintin, Rebecca A Green, Dhanya K Cheerambathur, Stacy D Ochoa, Arshad Desai, Karen Oegema. NOCA-1 functions with γ-tubulin and in parallel to Patronin to assemble non-centrosomal microtubule arrays in C. elegans (2015) eLife


The opposite of open science is not closed science. It’s broken science.
— John Wilbanks

Lab Protocols

Frequently used protocols with reagent links.


A great collection of microscopy lectures by iBiology.


Software Carpentry lesson for learning Git.


Software Carpentry lesson for learning Python.

Software Carpentry

Index of Software Carpentry lessons.

Data Carpentry

Index of Data Carpentry lessons.

Linear Algebra

MIT Open Course on Linear Algebra by Prof. Gilbert Strang.


How to give a scientific talk on iBiology.

Lab Fun

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.
It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.


Di’s awesome drawing of a dinosaur researcher.


Happy group after the first lab meeting!


Bowling night of some 4DCP labs.


Rafting on the calm Potomac River!


Di’s creative shell painting of a branching gland!

Lab News

Our ongoing story!

  • September 2022

    Lab opens!

    Our lab is part of 4D Cellular Physiology, the new exciting research area at HHMI Janelia!

  • November 2022

    Di joins the lab!

    Di recently finished her postdoc in Jurrien Dean’s lab at the NIH.

  • April 2023

    Angelo joins the lab!

    Welcome to Janelia, Angelo!

  • June 2023

    Katherine joins the lab!

    Welcome to Janelia, Katherine!

  • June 2023

    Di's annual review is online!

    Great read on tissue morphogenesis! See PUBLICATIONS.

  • July 2023

    Shunze joins the lab!

    Welcome to Janelia, Shunze!

  • March 2024

    Yihe joins the lab!

    Welcome to Janelia, Yihe!

  • Mar 14, 2024

    Come work with us!

    We have opportunities for undergraduate scholars and visisting scientists! See prospective positions in TEAM for details.

Contact Us

Email: wangs6 {at}