Understanding the rules of life

Category: Standard Studentships

The role of signalling molecules in skeletal biomineralisation and development

Project No. 2366


Primary Supervisor

Dr Jeffrey R Thompson- University of Southampton


Dr Katherine Williams – University of Portsmouth

Dr Claire Clarkin – University of Southampton


Understanding the molecular, cellular, and morphogenetic mechanisms which underlie biomineralisation is crucial for understanding how animal skeletons develop and grow.

Signalling pathways have an important role in shaping the morphology and development of biominerals across the animal kingdom. Sea urchins have a porous microsctuctural skeleton called stereom, which is analogous to the perforate microstructure of vertebrate bone. The role of signalling molecules in patterning the microstructure of the sea urchin skeleton is unknown. The aim of this project is to test the hypothesis that signalling molecules belonging to VegF, and BMP signalling pathways pattern the microstructure of the sea urchin skeleton. The student will combine cutting-edge assays of gene expression and protein localisation, with signalling pathway inhibition and micro-CT scanning and 3D data analysis to understand the molecular and morphogenetic mechanisms which underlie development of the sea urchin skeleton. They will have the opportunity to work with live animals at the Schools of Biological Sciences and Research Aquaria at the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton. The student will not only elucidate the biomineralization toolkit in these animals, but also carry out experiments using signalling molecule inhibitors to identify impact of signalling molecule inhibition on downstream gene expression, and skeletal morphology. This will involve quantification of skeletal microstructure volume and morphology under different experimental conditions. This study will provide direct insight into the mechanisms underlying how animals build their skeleton, and the role of signalling molecules in regulating animal development and morphology.