I’ll admit it straight away; I don’t know how I got here. However, it may have something to do with sheep.
My unwitting journey into the field of developmental biology was almost certainly instigated by the ever so witty and inspired lectures of Dr. Paul Scotting, back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham. More specifically, I believe it was the images of the single-eyed cycloptic lambs of 1950s Idaho that he presented during his lecture on craniofacial patterning which had me hooked. Unbeknownst to the farmers of Idaho, the phenotype of the lambs was caused by pregnant ewes ingesting the sonic hedgehog signalling (Shh) inhibitor cyclopamine, found in the wild corn lily Veratrum californicum. This diet led to the mis-specification of key facial structures in their unborn lambs through disruption of the Shh expression profile required to pattern these tissues in early development. The idea that the localisation of a single morphogen could be so fundamentally essential to a ‘macro-scale’ process fascinated me. I have had a passion for developmental biology and the molecular regulation of morphogenesis ever since; an admiration for the beauty of cause and effect.
After a brief stint as a research technician, it was this passion that led me to the lab of my personal hero Prof. J. Kim Dale at the University of Dundee. Kim’s group works to better understand the molecular mechanisms that come into play to establish the body plan of the vertebrate embryo. Her research focuses on elucidating the molecular basis of both cell fate choices and specification within the stem-like cells of the node and primitive streak as well as vertebrate somitogenesis. It was in the latter field that I completed my PhD, building on my love of morphogenetics through visualisation and analysis of the Notch and Wnt signaling crosstalk intrinsic to the molecular oscillator governing periodic somite formation in early development.
Kim’s enthusiasm for her subject was palpable and contagious then and remains so today. From the very first days of my time under her mentorship, she encouraged me to join her active involvement with the BSDB and to engage with the developmental biology community within the UK. This network of extraordinary scientists supported my personal and professional development in ways I could never have anticipated, while my regular attendance at BSDB meetings exposed me to a broad range of exciting, cutting edge science and ideas which positively impacted my research.
I have now moved further afield to the Novo Nordisk Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark where I am a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Elke Ober. Still pursuing my passion for morphogenesis, I currently mapping the spatiotemporal map of the cell behavioural dynamics underpinning liver regeneration in zebrafish in vivo.
So while it may have been sheep that started me on this journey, I can more confidently attest that it is developmental biology and the sensational role models and colleagues within this community that have led me to where I am today. I am delighted to be the BSDB postdoctoral representative, so that I might give back to the community that has guided me thus far.