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A fresh look at Cyclopia: On tissue growth and patterning in the eye field (GROCOTTTU20SCIEC)

Project Description

Background: The eye is our primary sense organ and a major conduit through which we experience the world around us. Eye malformations that arise in the womb have diverse impacts ranging from compromised vision to lethality. Our research uses the chick embryo to investigate how normal eye development is regulated at the molecular and cellular levels, and to uncover the causes of eye malformations. Moreover, by learning how healthy eyes develop in the embryo we can rationally design strategies to generate human eye tissues in vitro.

Project: Cyclopia is a congenital malformation in which a single eye forms in the centre of the head. Computer simulations of a recently discovered gene network suggest that the number of eyes generated may be constrained by growth of the embryonic ‘eye field’, from which they arise. Since eye field growth is poorly understood in amniote vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles) the project will: i) investigate the cellular mechanisms and genetic control of healthy eye field growth in amniotes, and ii) determine if and how this is disrupted in Cyclopia.

Impact: Characterization of causative gene networks may support provision of genetic diagnoses for families affected by congenital eye malformations. The resulting insights may help underpin efforts to develop and optimise ‘retinal organoid’ and ‘retina-on-a-chip’ technologies for disease modelling, drug development/safety testing and cell replacement therapies.

Training/Environment: The student will be trained to exploit interdisciplinary approaches, combining functional embryology with advanced imaging and computational modelling (previous experience not required). The student will be embedded within a vibrant, supportive and well-established developmental biology lab. The project will exploit state-of-the-art (multi-photon/confocal) microscopes within the adjacent Henry Wellcome Laboratory for Live Cell Imaging.

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please go here:

This is a PhD programme.

The start date of the project is 1 October 2020.

The mode of study is full-time. The studentship length is 3 years with a non-funded 1-year registration period.

Entry requirements:

Acceptable first degree in Biological Sciences or a related subject (e.g. Biomedicine, Natural Sciences).

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.

Funding Notes

This PhD project is in a competition for a Faculty of Science funded studentship. Funding is available to UK/EU applicants and comprises home/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,009 for 3 years. Overseas applicants may apply but they are required to fund the difference between home/EU and overseas tuition fees (which for 2019-20 are detailed on the University’s fees pages at View Website . Please note tuition fees are subject to an annual increase).


i) Grocott, T. et al. The Pax6 master control gene initiates spontaneous retinal development via a self-organising Turing network. bioRxiv 583807 (2019). doi:10.1101/583807

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