Ben Steventon,


Tim Fulton, Research Assistant


I joined the laboratory in August 2016 after having completed my Master’s Degree in Genetics at the University of Sheffield, where I studied the genetic regulation of stomata development in rice crops. I am now working as a research assistant in the Steventon laboratory, where I am investigating how the choice between mesoderm and neural tissue is made in the bipotent neuromesodermal progenitor population. I am generating CRISPR reporter constructs as well as investigating transcriptional profiles of this cell population at the single cell level using single cell RNAseq.

Andrea Attardi, Masters student


I’m currently enrolled in the MSc in Biotechnology for Industry and Scientific Research (BIRS) at University of Palermo, and my interest in fate determination processes led me to join the Laboratory of Comparative Developmental Dynamics.

As an undergraduate, I decided to study biology because of the big fascination a particular question created in me: how are biological systems so precisely and harmoniously built up, and in which way are they relying on the dynamics of molecules, their “non-living” constituents? With this question in mind I soon came in contact with developmental biology: important processes in which this relationship is thoroughly unravelled are the decisions that cells in the embryo have to make in order to develop into the mature organism. Pluripotency and fate restriction, proliferation and terminal differentiation are finely tuned in the embryo thanks to the interplay between gene expression at the level of single cells and signaling among different cells, but also in relation to environmental (chemical, physical, mechanical) factors.

How is this complex network of interactions established, maintained and modified?

How and when do the molecular events which are at the base of these behaviors arise (simmetry breaking events)?

These are some of the questions I’ll try to address by tracking cell lineage as well as gene expression in the neuro-mesodermal progenitors (NMps) of the zebrafish embryo. By integrating these  informations with cell signaling data, we’ll be able to clarify the dynamics of these progenitors in zebrafish and to compare their features with analogous populations of NMps in other anamniotes and amniotes.

Apart from science, I cultivate interests in philosophy, literature, photography, cinematography and music. When I’m not geeking out you’d probably find me at the skatepark, or at the pub!

Silvija Svambaryte, MPhil student


I graduated from the University of Glasgow with a BSc (Hons) in Genetics and am currently undertaking an MPhil research project in the Steventon laboratory. I am investigating the interplay between Wnt and Notch signalling pathways in generating neuromesodermal progenitor (NMp) bipotency and in pushing NMps towards neural or mesodermal fates. To this end, I am quantifying changes in single cell gene expression within the NMp population upon the inhibition of these signalling pathways in developing zebrafish embryos. I am a big enthusiast of tea/coffee breaks, which I usually devote to educating my lab mates about the most important geographical objects of Lithuania and animals I like.


Toby Andrews, Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD rotation student

I graduated from King’s College London in 2016 with a BSc in Anatomy, Developmental and Human Biology, and am now in the first year of the Wellcome Trust PhD studentship in Developmental Mechanisms at Cambridge.
I am interested in how the three-dimensional structure of the embryo takes shape, in terms of cellular behaviours and signalling dynamics. This is to the end of understanding how complex anatomical traits are assembled, and the mechanisms that have driven their modification over evolutionary time.
In my first rotation project at Cambridge, with Elia Benito-Gutierrez, I studied mechanisms of axial elongation and segmentation in the amphioxus – a living proxy for the pre-vertebrate condition. On a similar theme, in the Steventon lab, I am now characterising cellular movements regulated by gradients of FGF and retinoid signalling in the zebrafish tailbud. In this context, we are interested in understanding evolutionary change through differential responses to conserved signalling inputs, and the emergence of common morphological patterns through divergent morphogenetic routes.
We hope he comes back!!
Lewis Thomson, BBSRC DTP PhD rotation student


I graduated earlier this year from St Andrews University with a BSc (Hons) in Evolutionary Biology, and am now in my first year of the BBSRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership here at Cambridge. This year I will do two rotation projects, and in April I will begin my PhD project based on one of those. I decided to do my first rotation project in this lab because I am particularly interested in the evolution of vertebrate development. I’ll be researching the signalling involved in establishing the neuromesodermal progenitor (NMp) population in zebrafish, and also gene expression patterns and cell proliferation rates in dogfish – to determine whether or not these more ancestral cartilaginous fish also contain NMps. I hope to get a better understanding of how and why NMps, and their role in development, arose and evolved over time.
As well as biology, I’m also really interested in music. I play the guitar, piano and flute – but not all at the same time.

Department of Genetics

University of Cambridge