Lab: Sean Megason

Home town: Battle, UK

Undergrad: I majored in physics at Cambridge Uni, UK.

Definition of SysBio: Old problems; new tools.

Before starting my PhD, I did not have a great deal of research experience (particularly wet lab biology) and so arrived fresh faced in my first year in dire need of some training. Fortunately, the first year of the Systems Biology program imposes a ‘try before you buy’ policy on joining a lab. That meant I completed a few stints in a variety of labs – ranging from pure theory, to pure experiment, and in systems ranging from bacteria to cell culture to organismal level stuff. This was an excellent opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and, most excitingly, find out what type of questions interested me most. In fact, I completely changed my mind on what lab I wanted to join after completing my rotations – falling head over heels for developmental biology, a field I had barely come across before graduate school. I particularly enjoy the friendly working environment, combined with people coming from very different disciplines, and having different interests, which makes for excellent teatime conversation and means you always have someone to ask for ideas and advice.

The development of well-formed adult animals from single cell embryos is pretty amazing, at least to me. These movies hooked me in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJjLzyioWM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ6vkDr_Dec&index=3&list=PLJu35PK02_ltd6lpJ7UOFfx32o23swwIQ (this one collected in the Megason lab).

And then there is the quite amazing observation that if you take an embryo, cut it into parts… each part also develops just fine(!!!!) into a well-patterned (albeit smaller) form - see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9968/

This amazing stubbornness of the embryo to perturbation has really grabbed my attention. I study it in two ways. Firstly, I am excited by a number of theoretical questions about how patterns can self-assemble, particularly Turing patterns. I have also enjoyed diving into experiments, and have had the pleasure of learning from a number of pretty stellar mentors in lab. My current research focus is: how do neural stem cells balance proliferation and differentiation during development? I use predominantly an imaging approach to attack this question, and have been developing new reporters for imaging the Notch pathway to study how cell-cell communications allow robust number control of the progenitor niche in the zebrafish neural tube.

In my free time I enjoy being outside. Either by water, or in the mountains.