Developmental biology


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,
    Oxford University
    Finally Principal Scientist and Head of Experimental Morphology Laboratory
    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.

  • Goals

    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 gastrulation'.
    EMBO J, 13, 1994, 4469-4481

    Tucker AS and Slack JMW
    'Tail bud determination in the vertebrate embryo.'
    Curr.Biol., 5, 1995, 807-813.

    Slack JMW
    'The developmental biology of the pancreas'
    Development, 121, 1995, 1569-1580.


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