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Micro RNA regulation of neural crest development (WHEELERGU19MCETN2)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr G N Wheeler
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

NEUcrest is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) project, funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme. The neural crest (NC) is an essential stem cell population of the vertebrate embryos that gives rise to various tissues in the body such as the cranial facial cartilage, peripheral nervous system and pigment cells. NEUcrest focuses on integrating academic, clinical and industrial research for a better understanding of neural crest development and neural crest related diseases called Neurocristopathies. These pathologies are a major group of congenital diseases in human, and a heavy societal concern. The NEUcrest network comprises 20 partners in academia, industry and hospitals from seven European countries, gathered in a synergistic effort to advance knowledge and outreach about these diseases.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, non-coding RNAs around 22 nucleotides in length that inhibit gene expression by translational repression or by causing degradation of target mRNAs. Some genes associated with miRNA production are deleted in neurocristopathies (e.g. DGCR8 in DiGeorge Syndrome). We have identified two microRNAs (miR-196a and miR-219) expressed in the early neural crest. Our preliminary studies show that knockdown of either miRNA in the model organism Xenopus tropicalis (African clawed frog) causes a loss of neural crest tissue and are therefore predicted to target genes involved in NC specification. In this project the student will identify potential targets of miR-196a and 219, validate possible targets using cell-based luciferase assays and knockout of target sites in specific genes by CRISPR/Cas9 and determine where miR-196a and 219 act in the gene regulatory network for NC development.

The student will gain skills in molecular biology, embryology, in vivo biology and chemical biology. In addition, training for transverse skills in outreach and industrial managements are deeply embedded in the ITN programme.

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

Type of programme: PhD
Start date: January 2020
Mode of study: Full-time

Requirements: Acceptable first degree in Biological sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Biology

Funding Notes

This project is awarded with a 3-year PhD scholarship through the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions - Innovative Training Networks (ITN) Programme (No. 860635, pending Grant Agreement Signature). EU applicants are eligible to apply who have not been based in the UK for more than 12 months in the last 3 years. Remuneration will be in line with the Marie Skłodowska-Curie guidelines (Early Stage Researchers, ITN). For programme, funding information and eligibility criteria please visit:

Tuition fees are covered for UK/EU rate only (£4,327 2019/20 rate). A living salary will be provided for each year of the scholarship.


i) Hoppler S and Wheeler GN. (2015) It's about time for neural crest. Science, 348 (6241):1316-1317

ii) Nicole J Ward, Darrell Green, Janet Higgins, Tamas Dalmay, Andrea Münsterberg, Simon Moxon and Grant N Wheeler (2018). microRNAs associated with early neural crest development in Xenopus laevis. BMC Genomics, 19(1):59

iii) Ayisha Ahmed, Nicole J. Ward, Simon Moxon, Sara Lopez-Gomollon, Camille Viaut, Matthew L. Tomlinson, Ilya Patrushev, Michael J. Gilchrist, Tamas Dalmay, Dario Dotlic, Andrea E. Münsterberg and Grant N. Wheeler (2015). A database of microRNA expression patterns in Xenopus laevis. PLoS ONE, 10(10): e0138313.

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