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Molecular control of Eye development: investigating a novel gene network at the root of retinogenesis (GROCOTTU20DTP)

Project Description

The eye is our primary sense organ and a major conduit through which we experience the world around us. Congenital malformations that arise in the developing embryo can compromise vision, accounting for a quarter of all childhood blindness with life-long consequences. 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 eyes develop in the embryo we can rationally design strategies to generate them in vitro, important applications of which include disease modelling, drug development and regenerative therapies.

It is known that stem cell cultures can spontaneously self-organise to form retinas in vitro, but it is not known how they do this. This PhD project aims to investigate a Pax6 gene network that could drive selforganisation of the early retina, both in the embryo and in stem cell cultures. Pax6 was named a ‘master control gene’ for eye development, and we recently identified a network of Pax6-interacting genes with the potential to spontaneously self-organise the early retina. The project will directly test this Pax6-network by measuring key biophysical properties of its different gene products and comparing them with values predicted by computer simulations of early retinal development.

The project will develop your transferable ‘wet lab’ skills in molecular, cell, and developmental biology, and advanced imaging. You will receive rigorous training in quantitative analytical approaches, with an added opportunity to gain further skills in computational biology (computer programming, mathematical modelling; previous experience not required).

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.


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

Ali R.R., Sowden J.C. Regenerative medicine: DIY eye. Nature 472, 42-43 (2011)

Eiraku, M. et al. Self-organizing optic-cup morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture. Nature 472, 51-56 (2011)

Gehring, WJ. The master control gene for morphogenesis and evolution of the eye. Genes Cells 1, 11-15 (1996)

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