skip to primary navigationskip to content

Postgrad topics in Genetics

Some of the projects listed below are for 2013 or 2012, but there is unlikely to be substantial change for 2017 entry :

Julie Ahringer - Chromatin regulation in Gene expression / The establishment and Transduction of Cell Polarity in C. elegans

> Lab webpage

We use the power of functional genetics and genomics in C. elegans to address fundamental questions in chromatin regulation and transcriptional control. Chromatin is the organization of genomic DNA with histones that can have a wide range of post-translational modifications, along with hundreds of associated proteins and RNAs. The composition and structure of chromatin determines activity state and is central to the control of transcription, the expression of cell identity, the maintenance of pluripotency, and the transformation to cancer. However, our understanding of chromatin regulation in gene expression is still at a basic level. C. elegans has a complement of core chromatin factors very similar to that of humans (many with existing mutants), a small well-annotated genome (30x smaller than human), RNAi for loss of function studies, and well-characterised cell fates. 

We combine wet-lab and computational approaches to a range of problems in chromatin biology and transcriptional control, such as genome organization, promoter and enhancer function, roles of histone modifications, heterochromatin formation and function, and the regulation of chromatin in developmental transitions.

Specific projects would depend on student interest  [2016]

Christine Farr - Vertebrate Chromosome Biology

> Lab webpage

Projects include:

  • The functional organisation of centromere domains
  • The role of toposiomerase II at the centromere  and the influence of SUMOylation
  • The role of TOPBP1 and PICH in mitotic chromosome segregation

Anne Ferguson-Smith - The epigenetic control of genome function / Pre- and Post-natal mammalian developmental genetics

Anne Ferguson-Smith will be accepting Graduate students in 2017. Please refer to the Group's webpage for research interests.

Michaela Frye

> Lab webpage

Protein synthesis is a fundamental process for all cells, but its precise regulatory roles in development, stem cells, and cancer are not well understood. To evaluate the importance of the protein translational machinery for stem cell fate decisions, we use a combination of novel transcriptome- and proteome-wide quantitative analyses and well-established mouse and human in vitro and in vivo differentiation models.  [2017]

Ian Furner - Epigenetics in Arabidopsis thaliana

> Lab webpage

Projects on the molecular genetics and genomics of gene silencing, DNA methylation, siRNA and RNAi  [2016]

David Glover - The Regulation of Mitosis and Meiosis

> Lab webpage

Drosophila molecular genetics provides an inroad to understand the regulation of the progression through mitosis and meiosis. We have a particular interest in the regulation of the replication of the centriole / basal body and its multiple functions in centrosomes and cilia. The fundamental knowledge we gain allows us to study functions of centrosomes in the developing mouse embryo and in specific tissues such as the skin and pancreas with an aim of understanding how these go awry in cancer cells. PhD projects are available in all of these areas [2017]

Chris Illingworth - Microbial Evolution

> Lab webpage

Next-generation sequencing data grants an unprecedented level of insight into the composition of microbial populations. We are interested in developing novel computational approaches for the analysis of genome sequence data, in order to gain insights into rapid evolutionary processes. Our work is currently focused on two main topics : Understanding the global and within-host evolution of viral pathogens, and, via collaboration with experimental groups, the interpretation of genetic data from evolutionary experiments. We welcome applications not only from geneticists, but also from students in other quantitative disciplines (mathematics, physics, computer science etc.)  [2015]

Frank Jiggins - Host-Parasite Evolution and Genetics

> Lab webpage

There is enormous variation within populations of insects in their susceptibility to infectious disease. This variation is important as it determines the rate at which mosquitoes transmit disease, and whether beneficial insects like bees can survive infection. By studying this we can understand the evolutionary arms races between hosts and parasites. We offer projects on Drosophila and mosquito disease vectors, both of which combine genomics, classical genetics and evolutionary analysis
  • The first project is to investigate the causes of variation in susceptibility to infection by identifying the genes that cause variation in the resistance of Drosophila to viruses. Using whole-genome approaches we will identify polymorphisms controlling resistance. We can then go on to study how natural selection is acting on this variation in natural populations, which will provide insights into how parasites drive the evolution of their hosts
  • The second project aims to understand why the mosquito Aedes aegypti varies in its ability to transmit disease. Populations of this important disease vector vary in many key traits relating to disease transmission, including susceptibility to important human pathogens. This project would combine work in the insectary and large-scale genome sequencing to understand the molecular and evolutionary causes of this variation    [2016]

Yuu Kimata - Cell Cycle in Development and Differentiation

> Lab webpage

The cell cycle coordinates with development and differentiation in order to form and maintain the body and distinct organs in multicellular organisms. We are eager to understand how cell cycle progression is controlled in the body of the developing organism and how the cell cycle is coupled to differentiation. Our current focus is the regulation and functions of the APC/C ubiquitin ligase and the centrosome in Drosophila neural stem cells. We utilise Drosophila as an in vivo model system, combining biochemistry and molecular biology  [2015]

Bon-Kyoung Koo - Homeostatic Regulation of Adult Stem Cells

[Not accepting PhD students until at least 2016]

Alfonso Martinez Arias - Integration of Cell Signalling in Development

> Lab webpage

We study how different signalling pathways interact with each other during development and with transcription factor networks during development to fuel state transitions between cell states. We have a special interest in Notch and Wingless signalling and are using mouse embryonic stem cells and the stem cells of the gut in Drosophila, as systems to explore these questions. The lab has an emphasis on interdisciplinarity and quantitative approaches to developmental problems. Projects include:
  • Lineage analysis in vivo and in culture
  • Monitoring gene expression live through fluorescent reporters and analyzing the effects that signalling pathways have on this dynamics
  • Analysis of cell fate decisions in mouse embryonic stem cells
  • Development of quantitative methods for the analysis of live gene expression

Liria Masuda-Nakagawa - Circuit mechanisms for regulation of sensory discrimination in Drosophila larval brain

> Lab webpage

Discrimination of sensory stimuli is essential for animals to form and retrieve specific memories. I am interested in the neuronal circuitry of this process, using the Drosophila larva as a model, with powerful tools for targeted manipulation of neurons, optogenetics, calcium imaging, and connectomics. I use the sensory input region of the larval mushroom bodies, with low cellular redundancy but similar processing principles as in mammals. Of particular interest is how neuromodulatory inputs regulate the sensitivity and specificity of processing, and integrate it with other physiological states. [2016]

Erik Miska - Small Regulatory RNA

[Information to be supplied]

Cahir O'Kane - Molecular Analysis of Synaptic Function and Membrane Traffic in Drosophila

> Lab webpage

Projects include:

  • Structure and function of axonal endoplasmic reticulum, and the interplay between axonal membrane traffic and axon degeneration
  • Roles of Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia disease gene products in neuronal membrane traffic and organisation and signalling in Drosophila

Steven Russell - Genomics and Systems Biology of Drosophila

> Lab webpage

We are using genomics approaches, including microarray-based gene expression analysis and ChIP-on-chip, to study aspects of developmental gene regulation and chromatin structure in flies

We are particularly interested in the function of Sox-domain transcription factors in CNS and testis development, and the role of Hox proteins in morphogenesis   [2016]

Aylwyn Scally - Evolutionary Genomics

> Lab webpage

Projects include:

  • Investigating demography and speciation within the great apes and other primates using whole-genome sequence data
  • Development of computational approaches in evolutionary genomics

Marisa Segal - Cell Cycle Control of Spindle Polarity in Budding Yeast

> Lab webpage

Chromosomal segregation along an axis of cell polarity is a hallmark of asymmetric cell divisions throughout evolution. The budding yeast S. cerevisiae is a unique model to explore spindle orientation linked to cell polarity. In budding yeast, pole-derived astral microtubules target the spindle poles asymmetrically (bud versus mother cell) orienting the spindle to intersect the bud neck. Spindle pole components are evolutionary conserved and studies in yeast have effectively predicted similar centrosome asymmetry in stem cell self-renewing divisions. We seek to bridge the mechanisms of cell polarity, spindle orientation and cell fate under cell cycle control as is only attainable at this time using budding yeast to uncover fundamental principles for establishment of centrosome asymmetry.

Daniel St Johnston - Epithelial polarity in flies and mammals

> Lab webpage

Cell polarity is essential for most cell functions and for several key developmental processes, such as cell migration, axis formation and asymmetric stem cell divisions, whereas a loss of polarity is a critical step in the formation of tumours. We are analysing how cells become polarised and how this polarity controls the organisation of the cytoskeleton and intracellular trafficking. Part of the group studies the Drosophila oocyte, since its polarity defines the anterior-posterior axis of the future embryo. The rest of the group  focus on epithelial polarity, where we are comparing secretory (the follicle cells) and absorptive epithelia (the adult midgut) in Drosophila with a typical mammalian epithelium  (mouse intestinal organoids). Much of our work depends on advanced imaging, ranging from live imaging of mRNA transport and protein secretion to super-resolution imaging of polarity factors using custom-built microscopes with adaptive optics.  [2017]

Ben Steventon - Laboratory of Comparative Developmental Dynamics

> Lab webpage

An essential challenge in biology is to determine the intracellular and extracellular factors that maintain the correct rates of self-renewal and differentiation of progenitor populations. This is well exemplified by neuromesodermal progenitors that must generate the correct proportion of both spinal cord and paraxial mesoderm progenitors. Furthermore, their self-renewal and differentiation must be precisely balanced to provide a continued source of cells throughout the process of axial elongation and terminate in a timely fashion upon the completion of somitogenesis. We approach this problem through a series of inter-related projects:

  1. By obtaining single-cell gene expression data from whole-mount zebrafish embryos we aim to model the cell state transitions that lead to the proportionate specification of neural and mesodermal derivatives
  2. Through a collaboration with the neighbouring lab of Alfonso Martinez-Arias, we utilize mouse-chick chimeras to assay the in vivo potential of neuromesodermal-like cells generated from mouse embryonic stems cells cultured in vitro and in embryonic aggregates
  3. To determine the complete set of cell behaviours that generate axis elongation in zebrafish, we perform large-scale live imaging with the use of a motorised tracking system and light-sheet microscopy in the Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre 
  4. Finally, we are interested in exploring the degree to which neuromesodermal progenitors are conserved through chordate evolution via a series of local and international collaborations


David Summers - Microbial Genetics and Cell Signalling

> Lab webpage

Current research in the Summers laboratory is focused on the role of indole in bacterial cell signaling. We have recently demonstrated the involvement of a novel mode of indole action (pulse signaling) during E. coli stationary phase entry. We also study the role of indole in the response of bacteria to a range of environmental insults including temperature, antibiotics and oxidizing agents.

Projects available focus on the role of indole as an intra-cellular messenger regulating key aspects of the bacterial cell cycle. In particular we are interested in the role of indole-induced changes in trans-membrane potential as part of the signaling mechanism. In the biophysical aspects of our work we collaborate closely with Ulrich Keyser’s group at the Cavendish Physics laboratory.

The laboratory also has translational interests in the exploitation of E. coli as a cell factory and the development of novel antibacterial agents.


John Welch - Molecular Evolution

> Lab webpage

Projects include:

  • Adaptive genome evolution of bacterial pathogens (particularly S. aureus, and the genus Rickettsia)
  • Interpreting genomic regions of enhanced differentiation (particularly in Mytilus mussels)
  • The evolution of reproductive isolation

More information on research

A full listing of Groups in the Department appears here, and a description of research by themes here, but please note that only the labs listed on this page are currently accepting Graduate students.

Doctoral Training Programmes

Some Group Leaders also participate in the MRC-DTP and BBSRC-DTP programmes: follow the links for project listings