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Exploring the chromatin landscape in early development (WHEELERU20DTP)

Project Description

The Neural Crest and Placodes are groups of cells found only in vertebrates, specifically in the embryo. They originate at the neural border between the ectoderm and neuroectoderm. Once specified the Neural Crest undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and then migrate to various parts of the embryo where they differentiate into important issues such as parts of the heart, the peripheral nervous system, the cartilage of the face and pigment cells. Placodal cells differentiate into sensorial organs such as the eyes, ears and nose. The Neural Crest and Placodes are therefore of importance for normal development and errors in their development are the cause of many birth defects.

Understanding the regulatory elements, such as enhancers, required for specification of the Neural Crest and Placodes is important in order to understand how they are first specified and then induced during development. Understanding these processes will help in developing techniques to engineer specific cells and tissues that the neural crest and placodes give rise to and which could be used in stem cell and regenerative therapies. ATAC-seq is a method to identify ’open’ regions in the chromatin landscape which can correspond to active enhancers and promoters. We have previously carried out ATAC-seq on Xenopus embryonic tissue induced to form Neural Crest and Neural Ectoderm to determine active enhancers and promoters. In this project the student will generate ATAC-seq data on material induced to form placodal tissue. They will use bioinfomatics to analyse the data and compare it to the neural crest data. Differential analysis will uncover specific neural crest and placodal enhancers. Potential enhancers will be tested and validated using transgenic and CRISPR/Cas9 technologies.

Project supervisor:
Project sponsor: Norwich Research Park Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: 1 October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time
Studentship length: 4 years


- First degree (2:1 or above) in relevant subject
- English language (IELTS 6.5 overall, 6 in each section)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 7th, 8th or 9th January 2020.

The NRP DTP offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website:

Funding Notes

For funding eligibility guidance, please visit our website: View Website. Full Studentships cover a stipend (2019/0 rate: £15,009pa), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements.

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