Smith lab Developmental Biology Laboratory

A developing embryo.

We are studying the development of various vertebrate species to find out how the different types of cell in an embryo form at the right time and in the right place.

An animal embryo has to form many tissues as it develops, including brain, bone, blood, heart and muscle. These tissues are all made from different cell types, and these cell types have to be patterned and arranged in particular ways. It is essential that all these cellular structures form at the right time and in the right place; if they fail to do so, the embryo will have serious defects or fail to grow at all.

We are studying the molecular signals within embryos that tell cells when and how to grow, specialise and move. Using frog, zebrafish and mouse embryos, we are investigating the signals that generate the layer of cells known as the mesoderm, which eventually gives rise to tissues such as heart, muscle, kidney and bone. We want to find out exactly how these signals are received and interpreted by cells so that they know what to do.

As well as revealing how these signals work in healthy embryos, we are finding out what happens when they go wrong, thus providing new insights into developmental disorders and diseases. Our research is also revealing how we can use the very same signals to make embryonic stem cells grown in the lab give rise to different tissue types. This could lead to new ways to create replacement tissues or organs for repair or transplantation.