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Dissecting the function of Wnt signalling in zebrafish neural crest development. PhD in Biosciences (SWBio DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Steffen Scholpp, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
- Robert Kelsh, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath
- Dr Tetsu Kudoh, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
- Prof Trevor Dale, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University
- Prof Christian Soeller, Physics and Astronomy, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
- Dr Kyle Wedgewood, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

Programme Overview
The South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP is led by the University of Bristol, together with the Universities of Bath, Cardiff and Exeter, alongside Rothamsted Research.

For more information about the programme structure, please visit

Funding for 2020/21
These studentships are available to UK and EU nationals who have established UK residency (EU nationals must have ordinarily lived in the UK throughout the three years preceding the start of the studentship).

The four core universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) have a very limited number of fully-funded four year studentships for EU students who do not meet the residency requirements (1-2 studentships per university)*. Please contact the relevant university for more information.

*These are not available for CASE DTP studentships or Standard DTP studentships with a collaborative partner

Project Description

The neural crest (NC) is a stem-cell-like cell population, which is unique to vertebrates. NC cells can become peripheral neurons and glia, pigment cells and cartilage. NC cells migrate a long distance from their birthplace to the site where they function (Fig. 1A). Along the way, NC cells are exposed to signals promoting the variety of cell fates. We have shown that Wnt signals regulate the balance between peripheral neurons and pigment cells (Vibert et al., 2017 Pigm Cell Melanoma). However, how Wnt activates pigment cell fate, and leaving others to adopt another fate, is not understood. Recently, we could show that Wnt transport is directed by long cellular extensions called cytonemes. (Stanganello et al., 2015; Nat Comms). The producing cell loads Wnt on cytonemes to send them to the receiving cell. So, the producers can control how much and how far Wnt is transported, but also which cells are contacted. We hypothesise that Wnt cytonemes are the underlying cellular mechanism driving diversification of the NC lineage (Fig. 1B).

Under the supervision of leading cell biologists in Exeter and Bath, the student will test this hypothesis by studying Wnt transport in zebrafish. The student will generate transgenic zebrafish lines with fluorescently tagged Wnt proteins. The student will use these fish lines to monitor Wnt trafficking by advanced high- and super-resolution microscopy. Simultaneously signal activation in the receiving neural crest cells will be described by using real-time PCR, and live reporter systems. Finally, the student will interfere with Wnt cytonemes by using chemical inhibitors and CRISPR-based mutations in zebrafish to study their impact on NC differentiation.

The student selected for this project will develop invaluable skill sets in experimental genetics, cell biology while also making a significant contribution to the development of and high-resolution in vivo imaging techniques. This combined skill set will make the candidate a highly desirable recruitment prospect for future academic and industrial employers.

The Living Systems Institute in Exeter and the Department of Biology in Bath, with complementary expertise in biosciences and high-resolution imaging, will be an optimal environment to conduct these doctoral training studies. We offer unique training opportunities for the PhD student as it allows the student to address critical problems in life sciences with state-of-the-art equipment in an interdisciplinary environment.

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria in line with UKRI guidelines. Please see the following webpage for further details

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:

• a stipend* at the standard UKRI rate; currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-2020
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard UKRI rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Funding Notes

SWBio DTP funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20, on a full time basis.

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