Jonathan Slack - Vertebrate embryonic development
PhD 1974, University of Edinburgh
Postdoctoral work Middlesex Hospital Medical School 1974-76
Imperial Cancer Research Fund 1976-1995,
at Mill Hill Laboratories and later at the Developmental Biology Unit,
Finally Principal Scientist and Head of Experimental
Professor of Developmental Biology at the
University of Bath
- Current research
The understanding of the mechanisms of early embryonic
development is important for many reasons. First, as an
intellectual puzzle, to understand how a highly structured
organism can be formed from a simple egg. Secondly, because
we now know that the molecular basis of vertebrate
development is highly conserved, and that results from
animal models are very likely to apply to Man, leading to a
better understanding of the causes of human malformations.
Thirdly, because the understanding of development does not
just tell us about development itself, but also about the
inner organisation of the post embryonic body, and this must
in the long run be important for advancing human health and
welfare across a broad front.
Our work mainly uses embryos of the frog Xenopus, which are
very suitable for micromanipulative experiments. We are
interested in the mechanisms by which a simple ball of
cells, the blastula, becomes subdivided into territories
committed to form the major body parts and subsequently in the formation
of head-to-tail pattern, the tailbud, and the organisation of the gut.
This is achieved by
a series of chemical signals emitted from special signalling
centres. We have found that fibroblast growth factors
(FGFs) are intimately involved in these inductive processes.
Our current work involves the cloning of FGFs from Xenopus,
establishment of the normal expression patterns during
development, and studying the effects of ectopic
overexpression or of ablation of gene activity in vivo.
For this work we use both embryological methods, principally
cell labelling, isolation culture and grafting, combined
with the appropriate molecular biology techniques.
We are also working on the development of the pancreas in
the mouse embryo. The main goals here are to establish the
cell lineage relationships between exocrine and endocrine
cells, and to investigate the effects of growth factors on
growth and differentiation.
To understand the mechanisms of inductive signalling in
development, and the role of the FGF family.
Effect on Xenopus embryo of overexpression of FGF(top)
and of ablation of FGF activity (bottom).
- Selected publications
Isaacs HV, Pownall ME & Slack JMW
'eFGF regulates Xbra expression during Xenopus
EMBO J, 13, 1994, 4469-4481
Tucker AS and Slack JMW
'Tail bud determination in the vertebrate embryo.'
Curr.Biol., 5, 1995, 807-813.
'The developmental biology of the pancreas'
Development, 121, 1995, 1569-1580.