BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD
My research uses the power of comparative embryology and genetics to understand vertebrate evolution and diversification. I am using the lamprey, the most basal vertebrate, as a model to determine the genetic programme for one of the defining features of the vertebrates: the neural crest. The neural crest is a migratory embryonic cell population that contributes to many adult features including the skull, teeth and peripheral nervous system. Knowledge of the 'recipe' for making neural crest cells will help us determine the causes of neural crest defects in humans, and will also assist in harnessing the potential of this tissue for therapeutic purposes.
While the neural crest has been studied extensively we do not know how it was first specified in our evolutionary ancestors. I am tackling this problem using the latest genome-wide analysis techniques in the lamprey for the first time. By comparing the results to similar datasets for other vertebrates, such as chicken and zebrafish, I expect to find critical regulatory elements and sets of expressed genes that are shared across vertebrates and others that are either present in lamprey alone or missing from the lamprey. In this way, this study will focus our attention on the regions of the genome that gave neural crest cells their properties in the earliest vertebrate ancestors and form the core recipe for specifying this unique cell type in modern vertebrates.
I received my undergraduate and MSc degrees from the University of Cape Town and did my PhD at the University of Cambridge as part of the Wellcome Trust 4 Year PhD Programme in Developmental Biology. In 2013, I joined Trinity College, Oxford, as a Junior Research Fellow, and began work on my current research in collaboration with the Assoc. Prof. Tatjana Sauka-Spengler at the MRC WIMM. Since 2016, I have been working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Sauka-Spengler lab, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. I also hold the Sydney Brenner Postdoctoral Fellowship, which has allowed me to create a new collaboration between the University of Cape Town, the MRC WIMM and the California Institute of Technology.
Evolution of the hypoxia-sensitive cells involved in amniote respiratory reflexes
Hockman D. et al, (2017), eLife, 6
Retinoic acid-independent expression of Meis2 during autopod patterning in the developing bat and mouse limb.
Mason MK. et al, (2015), Evodevo, 6
A fate-map for cranial sensory ganglia in the sea lamprey
Modrell MS. et al, (2014), Developmental Biology, 385, 405 - 416
A second wave of Sonic hedgehog expression during the development of the bat limb.
Hockman D. et al, (2008), Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 105, 16982 - 16987