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.

Lewis Thomson, BBSRC DTP PhD student


I graduated from St Andrews University with a BSc (Hons) in Evolutionary Biology, and am now undertaking my PhD in the Steventon lab, as a student on the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme. I’m interested in the evolution of vertebrate development, and my research focuses on the cell population dynamics of neuromesodermal progenitors (NMps) during vertebrate development. To investigate this, I use small-molecule inhibitors to assess the roles of TGFB signalling pathways in the NMp population, using fate-mapping; cell tracking; and gene expression analyses. Although primarily working on zebrafish, I am also working on chick and catshark embryos. With these comparative studies, I hope to get a better understanding of how and why NMps, and their role in development, has 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.

Berta Verd, Herchel Smith Postdoctoral Fellow,

I am a somewhat unusual breed of biologist. A mathematician by training, I spent a year studying a Masters degree in sociology of science before starting to work in biology during my second Masters degree in Systems and Synthetic Biology at Imperial College, London. There I combined experiments and stochastic models to address the mechanisms underlying bimodal activation in cell populations after induction by NFAT signaling. It soon became very clear to me that interdisciplinary approaches held huge potential to help us understand some of the most central problems in biology, and I was hooked.

After my Masters I moved to the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona to pursue a  doctorate degree in evolutionary and developmental systems biology under the supervision of Dr. Johannes Jaeger. During my PhD I used data-driven mathematical modeling to study pattern formation during segment determination in Drosophila and other species of flies. I developed mathematical tools to characterise gene expression dynamics, allowing us to compare these amongst different arthropod species. This has helped us understand how gene regulatory networks drive gene expression dynamics in developmental  processes and shape their evolution.

In October 2017 I joined the Steventon Lab as a Herchel-Smith Postdoctoral Fellow where I plan to combine experimental and dynamical modeling approaches to understand neuromesodermal progenitor competence and differentiation in zebrafish embryos.

Susie McLaren, Wellcome Trust PhD student


I graduated from UCL with a BSc (Hons) in Cell Biology and Physics and am now a PhD student on the Wellcome Developmental Mechanisms PhD programme. I joined the Steventon lab in October 2017 after rotating around 3 labs in the first year of the programme. I am interested in the overlap between physics and biology, and more specifically, in the influence of mechanical forces on cell behaviours. Over the course of my PhD I will investigate how the mechanical environment of neuromesodermal competent cells, which can form neural or mesodermal cell types, influences their contribution to specialised tissues in the developing zebrafish embryo.

In my spare time I enjoy rowing, cycling, doing arty things, and making questionable cakes.

Kane Toh, PhD student

I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2017, with a Triple First in the Biological Natural Sciences. Having completed my 2nd year summer project and final year Genetics project with Ben, I am now fully funded by the Cambridge Trust under the Cambridge International Scholarship to pursue my work on zebrafish neuromesodermal progenitors (NMps).
My research interest lies in understanding the extent to which the theory of non-linear dynamical systems can provide an accurate explanatory framework for cell differentiation. In particular, we seek to uncover the molecular signature of ‘stemness’, which we conjecture to be a dynamic profile involving the co-expression of key lineage-specific transcription factors, sox2 and T/ntl, that oscillates irregularly with time (Suzuki et al., 2011). In addition, we will model the differentiation process as a high-dimensional critical transition following Mojtahedi et al., (2016), by obtaining data with single-cell qRT-PCR and hybridization chain reaction (HCR) from zebrafish cells in vivo. Finally, by analysing the results of experimental perturbations of signalling pathways that modulate the gene regulatory network (GRN) in NMps, we will analyse models of GRNs to test their consistency with the experimental data, and to uncover network motifs that drive the network dynamics. My research is unique as we analyse the cells in vivo, keeping the cells as close to their native context as possible such that the non-genetic heterogeneities uncovered are more likely to be of biological relevance.
In my spare time, I play chess, read about philosophy and spend valuable time with my close friends, most of whom are of the same genus.



Previous Lab members
Andrea Attardi. Now a PhD student with Jacqueline Tabler at the MPI-CBG, Dresden


Silvija Svambaryte. Now a PhD student with Alexander Aulelha at the EMBL, Heidelberg


Toby Andrews. Now a PhD student with Elia Benito-Gutierrez at the Department of Zoology, Cambridge


Department of Genetics

University of Cambridge