I am the Associate Head (Research & Innovation) and one of the three Interim Heads of School in the School of Biological Sciences. I am leading a research group focusing on genetics in embryonic development and evolution.

Much of my work is centered on early brain development. In a seminal paper we characterised the early axon scaffold, the first neuronal connections, in the chicken as a major model organism. We followed this up with a comparison of the early axon scaffold across different vertebrates.


Inspired by the fascinating insight that biological research gives into the living world, I studied Biology in Germany at the Universities of Kiel and Heidelberg, graduating in 1989. I spent one year at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, studying gene transfer methods with Dr Erwin Wagner (1988-1989), before starting my postgraduate studies at the Max-Planck-Institute of Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen (1989-1994). During my PhD project in the group of Prof Peter Gruss I investigated the evolution of the Hox cluster in vertebrates and insects. My isolation and characterisation of a novel vertebrate homeobox gene expressed in the embryonic brain set the focus for my career – investigating the molecular mechanisms of brain development.

Having obtained the doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, I joined the laboratory of Prof Andrew Lumsden at King's College London as an EMBO research fellow. My postdoctoral studies (1994-2003) resulted in the isolation and characterisation of a number of developmental control genes, two successful PhD projects (Susan Chapman and Robin Gogoi), a collaboration with the lab of Antonio Simeone, and a highly productive partnership with Susanne Dietrich whose work on paraxial mesoderm patterning is now a textbook-cited classic.

Appointed to a faculty position at the University of Portsmouth in 2003, I am leading a lab working on vertebrate brain development. A major focus of our work is the development of the first nerve connections in the embryonic brain, the early axon scaffold. We are investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying neurogenesis, cell fate determination and axon guidance. Further projects include the vascularisation of the brain, and developing the chicken embryo as an in vivo model for paediatric brain tumours.

The second theme of my research is built around evolution. This includes analysing the evolution of gene families by phylogenetic reconstruction, or using ancient DNA analysis to explore museum samples and archaeological remains.

Research interests

  • Gene regulatory networks controlling neurogenesis and cell fate in the early brain
  • Axon guidance of early axon tracts in the embryonic brain
  • Vascularisation of the embryonic brain
  • Chicken embryo as in vivo model for paediatric brain tumours (collaboration with Dr. Helen Fillmore and Dr. Susanne Dietrich)
  • Phylogenetic analysis of gene family evolution
  • Ancient DNA analysis of museum samples and archaeological remains (collaboration with Dr. Garry Scarlett and Dr. Sam Robson)

Teaching responsibilities

Building on my background in molecular genetics and my interests in developmental and evolutionary biology, I am teaching on a variety of modules across all year groups. These include:

  • Biodiversity and Evolution
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Development: How Form and Function Changes
  • Research Skills in Biology
  • Gene Organisation and Expression
  • Genes and Development
  • Bioinformatics and Omics

From 2013 to 2020 I was the course leader for BSc Biology.