Developmental Biology Research Foci

Cell and Developmental Biology

Cell biology is the study of how cells work as individuals, how they organize into complex groups, and how they coordinate their activities within tissues and at different stages of organism development.  We use a variety of approaches and experimental systems to contribute to fields such as neuroscience, immunology, pathogen biology and industrial biotechnology.


Developmental mechanisms are highly conserved among animals and often genes that are important in human development are also important in cancer and other degenerative diseases. Therefore, basic research in model systems will ultimately underpin the development of new treatments for human disease.

Impacting on health and disease


York scientists work with leading academic clinicians and scientists in engineering, biology and material science with the aim of regenerating bone and cartilage by using the patients’ own stem cells to repair joint damage caused by osteoarthritis


3D gene knockout tissue models using adult human stem cells
This study will use new gene knockout technology in adult stem cells from human bone marrow, to find out how this affects their ability to form 3D micro-skeletons in the laboratory. The work will add to our understanding of gene function in stem cells and contribute to the replacement of mouse knockout experiments.

Examples of Cell and Developmental Biology projects

Example of CDB project

A Combinatorial Approach to Enhance Production of Monoclonal Antibodies.  The CHO cell is the most widely used system in the biopharmaceutical industry for producing therapeutic proteins, but it can still struggle to express and secrete, at high levels and in a sustained manner, large biologics, such as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).  We are addressing this problem through a systematic combinatorial programme of synthetic cell engineering that combines innovative approaches to concomitantly increase mAb expression and secretion.  Our aim is to establish a robust, flexible and adaptable UK platform for optimisation and manufacture of therapeutic biologics. This will benefit society, by decreasing production costs and thereby make more widely available therapeutics that currently are prohibitively expensive.


‌Making segmented muscle
MyoD is a master regulator of skeletal muscle development in vertebrates. Work in the Pownall lab reveals a novel function for MyoD in regulating genes important for somite formation as well as an unexpected ancestral link between the molecular mechanisms that regulate skeletal muscle lineage determination and genes important for somitogenesis.

Pattening Neural Progentitors

A conserved mechanism for patterning neural progenitors
The Isaacs lab has found that the Gsx family homeodomain transcription factors are expressed in a highly conserved domain within the nervous system of bilaterally symmetrical animals.  Our study indicates that since the divergence of the protostome and deuterostome lineages some of Gsx mediated regulatory interactions have been conserved, while there has also been considerable divergence in function.

Academic staff associated with Cell and Developmental Biology

Professor Nia Bryant, Chair of  Cell Biology, Regulation of intracellular membrane traffic.

Dr William BrackenburyLecturer: role of sodium channels in regulating the migration and invasion of metastatic cancer cells.

Dr Sangeeta Chawla, Lecturer: response of neuronal transcription to growth factors; synaptic activity; gene expression programmes underlying neuronal differentiation and synaptic plasticity; neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr Dawn Coverley, Reader: investigating the temporal and spatial organisation of DNA replication to identify and study new factors that might serve as targets in cancer therapy or as markers of cell proliferation potential.

Professor Paul Genever, Reader: differentiation of tissue function in skeletal systems; signalling mechanisms in adult stem cell fate, tissue remodelling, repair and regeneration; tissue engineering and disease treatment.

Dr Darren L Goffin, Lecturer: the neurobiology of autism spectrum disorders; the role of DNA methylation in health and disease

Dr Harry Isaacs, Reader: Fibroblast Growth factor signalling in early development; Gsx homeodomain transcription factors that are regulators of neurogenesis in the amphibian primary nervous system.

Dr Chris MacDonald, Lecturer: Research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that govern intracellular trafficking of cell surface membrane proteins

Dr Betsy Pownall, Reader: developmental cell signalling using the non-mammalian model organisms Xenopus and zebrafish; FGF signalling, tyrosine kinases heparan sulfate proteoglycans.

Dr Paul Pryor, Lecturer: biogenesis of lysosomes and phagolysosomes; membrane traffic; host-pathogen interactions; phagocytosis.

Dr Nathalie Signoret, Lecturer: role of chemokine receptors in regulating mononuclear phagocyte function during immune responses.

Professor Jenny Southgate, Director, Jack Birch Unit: proliferation, differentiation and cellular organisation in normal and wounded epithelial tissues; development and progression of malignant disease.

Dr Sean Sweeney, Reader: endosomes in regulating signals controlling synapse growth; Frontotemporal Dementia, oxidative stress and neurodegeneration.

Dr Daniel Ungar, Senior lecturer: molecular mechanisms of vesicle targeting, glycosylation homeostasis in the secretory pathway.




Recent news

Breast cancer now

Potential new diagnosis and therapy for breast cancer

Red-spotted newt

How newts can help osteoarthritis patients

Arthritis research logo

Stem cell discovery paves way for targeted treatment for osteoarthritis

Examples of high profile publications

A saposin deficiency model in Drosophila: Lysosomal storage, progressive neurodegeneration and sensory physiological decline. Sweeney/Elliott et al2017 Eur Urology

Heterarchy of transcription factors driving basal and luminal cell phenotypes in human urothelium. Southgate et al. 2017 Cell Death and Differentiation 

Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition drives a pro-metastatic Golgi compaction process through scaffolding protein PAQR11. Ungar et al. 2017 J Clin Invest.  BBC Story

The Rhodococcus equi virulence protein VapA disrupts endolysosome function and stimulates lysosome biogenesis.  Pryor et al. 2016 Microbiology Open

Label-free imaging to study phenotypic behavioural traits of cells in complex co-cultures. Chawla S. et al 2016 Scientific Reports  "Watch microglia eat"