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How do new organs evolve: a gene regulatory perspective on ear evolution

*Please note, this project is self-funded*

Project details

Supervisor: Professor Andrea Streit

Mode of study: Full-time

Funding: Self-funded

Application deadline: Open until a suitable candidate is found

Eligibility: Open to all

Reference number: 2017/DI/19 

Project description

There are three unique features common to all vertebrates: the vertebral column, the brain as part of the nervous system and a complex head where sense organs became concentrated. Sense organs are relay stations, providing environmental information to the central nervous system, and their emergence allowed the evolution of new predatory lifestyles and ultimately humans. The question of how these highly specialised structures emerged has attracted much attention over many decades, but we still know very little. During evolution sense organs like the ear evolved from simple patches of sensory cells into structures with complex morphologies and many different cell types. How does this complexity arise?

We have recently uncovered the molecular blueprint for ear formation in a vertebrate, and established the first gene network that explains how multipotent progenitors become differentiated ear cells. Now we can use this information to explore the mechanisms that underlie evolution of the ear. On a molecular level, evolutionary change involves the recruitment of new genes into existing gene networks, largely due to changes in the mechanisms that regulate their expression. Having identified these mechanisms in higher vertebrates this project will now ask how much of the vertebrate network is conserved in the most basal vertebrate ancestor, like ascidians, and in primitive vertebrates like lamprey.

The project is a collaboration with laboratories at Oxford University and CalTech in Pasadena, USA, and the student will actively take part in these collaborations. The student will work with different animal model systems, learn molecular & cell biology, various imaging techniques and other tools to manipulate gene expression. S/he will be embedded in a multidisciplinary team and with many opportunities for interactions and new collaborations. The Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology provides a vibrant and international environment and runs an established PhD programme including lectures, training workshops on project design and development. In addition, project specific training, as well as transferable skills sessions will be provided, and the student will have the opportunity to present her/his findings at international meetings.

To view entry requirements and further course information, see the Dental and Health Sciences Research MPhil/PhD

Next steps

How to apply

Please apply online at following these steps:

  1. Register a new account/login
  2. Once logged in, select Create a new application
  3. Enter ‘Dental and Health Sciences Research MPhil/PhD (Full-time)' under Choose a programme. Please ensure you select the correct mode of study
  4. Select a start date from the list under Entry requirements on this webpage.

Please note: Applicants must include the project reference number in the 'Research proposal' section of the application.

Contact for further information

Professor Andrea Streit (

Related division Craniofacial Development and Stem Cell Biology.

Back to Research Projects main page.

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