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.

Leaf Shape

Leaf Analyser
A comprehensive understanding of leaf shape variation is important in plant developmental biology. The LeafAnalyser software developed in the Waites lab exploits image analysis methods for high-throughput analysis of leaf shape variation that can be visualised in a higher dimensional phenotypic space.

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 BrackenburyMRC Career Development Fellow: 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 Mark Coles, Senior Lecturer: role of neural crest derived stromal cells in the development and function of the thymus; lymph node organogenesis, cellular origin of lymph node stroma, T and B cell zone stroma differentiation.

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.

Dr 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 Louise Jones, Lecturer: RNA biology and post-transcriptional control of gene expression; RNA silencing; epigenetic changes DNA methylation and histone modification.

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 Deborah F Smith, OBE: kinetoplastid parasites including Leishmania, Trypanosoma brucei, mechanisms of invasion and adaptation, development of new therapeutics.

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, Lecturer: molecular mechanisms of vesicle targeting, glycosylation homeostasis in the secretory pathway.

Dr Richard Waites, Lecturer: genetics and evolution of plant leaf shape; functional significance of leaf shape variation.



Recent news

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Arthritis research logo

Stem cell discovery paves way for targeted treatment for osteoarthritis

Examples of high profile publications

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

CCR5 susceptibility to ligand-mediated down-modulation differs between human T lymphocytes and myeloid cells.  Signoret et al.  2015 J Leukoc Biol

Novel mutations in human and mouse SCN4A implicate AMPK in myotonia and periodic paralysis.  Blanco et al.  2014, Brain

Nav1.5 regulates breast tumor growth and metastatic dissemination in vivo.  Brackenbury et al.  2015 Oncotarget 6

Cdx ParaHox genes acquired distinct developmental roles after gene duplication in vertebrate evolution.  Holland et al.  2015, BMC Biology