We are currently advertising National Productivity Investment Fund Industrial CASE studentships with a deadline of the 16th July 2018.

02 / 10 / 2017

All cells are not created equal: the importance of timing (MUNSTERBERG_U18DTP1)

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Differentiated cells have varied and specialist functions in the body. How does this complexity of cell types arise during embryo development? We study the specification of mesoderm, which forms during gastrulation. Mesoderm generates important tissues, including cardiac and skeletal muscle cells, which are needed for the growth and survival (heart) of embryos, and for quality of life postnatally (muscle). Vertebrate gastrulation is a dynamic process, when mesoderm cells first emerge after ingressing through the primitive streak. The cells undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and, in response to signals, migrate towards their final destination. We have identified some of the signals required for this migration: Wnt, BMP and FGF. Interestingly, we found that early and late emerging mesoderm cells, which produce heart or muscle tissue respectively, respond differently: The same signal causes mesoderm cells to change either their migration (early exposure) or fate (late exposure). We used this observation to design a differential screen with the aim to determine how the cells' responses are controlled at the molecular level, i.e. what genes are up- or downregulated in the different scenarios. In this project, the student will investigate the role of differentially expressed candidate genes identified using in vivo gain- and loss-of function in chick embryos. These are accessible for microinjections and live imaging experiments to determine the effects resulting from interference with gene function. This project is supported by pilot data and the student will benefit from established methods and expertise. The new knowledge generated will benefit stem cell science, with prospects for future cell based therapies.