Our research focuses on two areas: Vertebrate Development and Behavior. We mostly use zebrafish as a model system because genetic, genomic and imaging approaches can be combined to study complex behaviors and developmental processes in a vertebrate. But we are also beginning to use other fish (killifish, cavefish, loach, cichlids) and mouse as model systems. We are also committed to training the next generation of leaders in biomedical research.


During development, cells acquire specialized fates and migrate to specific positions to form the embryo and generate functional organs. Our goal is to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this process. How do signals move through fields of cells and elicit concentration dependent effects? How do cells differentiate into specialized cell types? How do cells arrive at the right place at the right time? And how can embryogenesis be both robust and flexible?

To address these questions, we use genetic, genomic, biophysical and in vivo imaging approaches in zebrafish.  Most recently, we have developed single-cell technologies to reconstruct the lineage and specification trajectories of thousands of cells. We are applying these methods to construct lineage trees that capture the major decisions made by cells as they differentiate, with the long-term goal of understanding the rules and statistics of development.

Recent publications:

Sleep, wakefulness and other behaviors

We spend a third of our life asleep but the mechanisms that control sleep and waking states remain largely elusive. We seek to identify molecules and neurons that regulate sleep and the neuropeptides that promote sleep and wakefulness. What are the neurons that detect sleep deprivation and regulate recovery sleep? What is the role of genes that have been implicated in human sleep disorders? To address these questions and to study the basis of additional behaviors, we use genetic, genomic, and imaging approaches in fish and mouse.

Recent publications:

Training the next generation of scientists

In addition to performing creative and rigorous research, we are committed to training the next generation of leaders in biomedicine. Graduate students are coached to become independent scientists, and postdoctoral fellows are mentored to develop the skills and projects that provide the foundations for their own labs. Following their training in the Schier lab, 16 of 20 graduate students went on to postdoctoral research positions, and 21 of 25 postdocs started their own labs at leading institutions such as Princeton, Caltech, UCLA, UCSD, NYU School of Medicine, University of Toronto, MPI Dresden, MPI Tuebingen, IMP Vienna, University of Utah, University College London, University of Cambridge and Yale. Please contact Alex if you are interested in joining us (alex.schier@unibas.ch).