In 2016, the BSDB introduced the Cheryll Tickle Medal, which is being awarded annually to a mid-career, female scientist for her outstanding achievements in the field of Developmental Biology.

The BSDB is proud to announce the 2024 awardee is Prof.  Petra Hajkova!


It is with great pleasure that we nominate Professor Petra Hajkova for the Cheryll Tickle Medal. Petra has become such an established member of the field that it will surprise many to learn that she started her lab just 14 years ago. In this short time she has risen through the ranks at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) from junior group leader (2009) to Epigenetic Section Chair (2018) and on to the Interim Director (2021-2022). All the while she has continued to make the major scientific contributions that have been her hallmark since the start of her research career.

Petra’s interest in DNA methylation started while she was an undergraduate, studying the expression of integrated viral sequences. In her PhD, Petra developed bisulphite sequencing methods and applied them to study epigenetic reprogramming in primordial germ cells (PGCs), in a now classic paper, with >1300 citations (Hajkova et al., 2002, Mech Dev). This longstanding interest in, and fundamental understanding of, DNA methylation underpins her rigorous approach to investigating epigenetic reprogramming and DNA demethylation in PGCs and the zygote; in a field in which many ideas have come and gone. Her postdoctoral studies with Azim Surani further characterised changes in chromatin accompanying DNA demethylation in PGCs (Hajkova et al., 2008, Nature). In a landmark paper Petra and Azim connected DNA demethylation in PGCs to the base excision repair pathway (Hajkova et al., 2010, Science). Petra’s subsequent work has shown that, in contrast to the prevailing dogma, Tet-mediated hydroxylation is not required for DNA demethylation, either in the zygote (Amouroux et al., 2016, Nature Cell Biology) or in PGCs (Hill et al., 2018, Nature). Rather Tet proteins protect against de novo demethylation following reprogramming. Further mechanistic work in the zygote showed that continuous histone replacement is required for transcriptional regulation and epigenetic programming (Nashun et al., 2015, Mol Cell).

How the epigenome is regulated in different pluripotent states – both in vivo and in vitro – has been an ongoing interest. Petra was the first to show that mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) grown in 2i media exhibit global DNA hypomethylation (Leitch et al., 2013, NSMB). This study also demonstrated that mouse embryonic germ (EG) cells are transcriptionally indistinguishable from ESCs, arguing against an epigenetic or transcriptional memory of their distinct origins. More recently, with Anja Groth, Petra has developed isolation of DNA by 5-ethynyl-deoxyuridine labelling for mass spectrometry (iDEMS) (Stewart-Morgan et al., 2023, Nature Cell Biology). A versatile technique with many applications, this provided new insights into the restoration kinetics of DNA methylation in ES cells, revealing that maintenance methylation fails to keep up with cell division in mouse ES cells.

Petra has also influenced how we view the biological function of epigenetic reprogramming. Her work suggests that this process is required to enable PGCs to transition to gonocytes and prepare cells to initiate meiosis, rather than simply achieving imprint erasure (Hill et al., 2018, Nature). A more recent study revealed sex-specific epigenetic regulation and the necessity for dynamic alterations in repressive chromatin in PGCs (Huang et al., 2021, Nature). Conceptually this distinguishes epigenetic regulation in the germline, a lineage characterised by developmental reprogramming from that in soma which undergoes progressive differentiation. Overall, Petra has made key contributions to our understanding of epigenetic regulation during germline and pre-implantation development. Petra is also highly collaborative, as evidenced by an array of insightful publications across diverse fields, including myeloid cancer, microglial biology, alternative TSS usage, sperm biology and nematode evolution.

Beyond research, Petra is an excellent colleague and leader, as evidenced by her prize for mentoring and the plaudits she received as leader of the LMS Epigenetics section, which scored highly at quinquennial review. During turbulent times, she stepped up to be interim director at the LMS, where she championed the cause that fundamental research should remain central to the new strategy envisioned for the LMS. Petra’s other prizes and achievements are detailed in her CV, and we would strongly advocate that the Cheryll Tickle Medal is added to these.

    • Harry Leitch
    • Ian Chambers


Following the sad passing of one of the greats of Developmental Biology, Lewis Wolpert, the BSDB committee has decided to launch a new annual medal in his honour. Lewis was well known for his ability to distil our subject’s most engaging and fundamental problems into concise and well-grounded core concepts of Biology. This led to vastly important contributions to research in our field, but also to the communication of its problems to a broader audience. Through teaching, popular science writing and acting as a spokesperson for Science as a whole, Lewis inspired many of us into the deeper study of Developmental Biology. Therefore, our annual ‘Wolpert medal’ will be presented to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the teaching and communication of Developmental Biology.We are very happy to announce that this year’s  winner of the BSDB Wolpert medal is Prof. Sally Lowell from the University of Edinburgh.


Until a few months ago, Sally was our BSDB meeting secretary and she was outstanding in this role, bringing many new initiatives including the BSDB childcare and disability travel awards. She pushed hard in many ways for diversity, inclusivity and sustainability, so that during her tenure the BSDB became one of the leading drivers of new ways of running conferences.  This climaxed with our recent hosting of the European Dev Biol Congress where she pushed for – and made work – a programme made up largely of ECR speakers from across Europe, with a unique three hub arrangement with interdigitating talks beamed in from Paris and Barcelona to the central host hub of Oxford.  This was a pioneering “experiment” that could have gone badly wrong, but instead worked exceptionally well, and will have set a precedent for others to follow. Several colleagues from sister dev biol societies across Europe congratulated us on how brave the BSDB was to run such a meeting and how successful it had been.  This kudos for the BSDB was largely down to Sally.

Over the years, Sally has also held and still holds numerous other, largely unsung, roles in the dev biol and broader scientific community.  Some of those that are most relevant in the context of this Medal for communication and outreach include:

She is a Director of the CoB and chair of their sustainable conferencing initiative;

She is Co-Organiser (since 2014) of the Hydra summer school in stem cell and regenerative medicine;

She is part of the “prelights” scientific advisory group, which promotes open science and supporting of ECRs.

She is a trustee and the treasurer of the stem cell education and charitable initiative to support various science education projects;

She is the member for education on the Int Soc Stem Cell Research committee;

She is the outreach coordinator for the “Self organising built environment” with the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, which explores links between dev biol and urban planning.

Sally instigated and has been involved in the set up and running of several sci-art exhibitions, linked to the BSDB Spring meeting. These have reached audiences outside of the developmental biology community.

All of these things that Sally has been doing for our community have helped popularise and widen participation in stem cell and developmental biology. In addition, she is also an outstanding scientist as reflected in her recent award in 2022 of the Int Soc Diffn, Anne McClaren Award for Outstanding Women in Dev Biol, and also being appointed a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (also in 2022). This makes her voice even more significant and she is a fabulous role model to all young scientists of how to be both collegiate and kind as well as an exceptional scientist.  We think she is someone who is worthy of the Wolpert medal through the numerous ways she enables and facilitates cross communication and success in others in our field, and we know she would be a fantastic ambassador for the BSDB when she gives her Wolpert medal tour lectures.

  • Paul Martin
  • Jens Januschke
  • Cynthia Andoniadou


We are very pleased to announce that this year’s Waddington medal winner is Jean-Paul Vincent, Principal Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute. His fundamental discoveries have helped shape developmental biology as we know it, and his work has created new links between developmental biology and a number of other disciplines.

The Waddington Medal is the only national award in Developmental Biology. It honours outstanding research performance as well as services to the subject community. This year’s medal was awarded at the European Developmental Biology Congress, hosted by the BSDB at Oxford, where the recipient presented the Waddington Medal Lecture.



Originally trained as an engineer and physicist, JP Vincent became a developmental biologist by accident, when his PhD advisor George Oster, a mechanical engineer turned biologist, suggested that he look at the fluid dynamics of Xenopus eggs. He was lucky to be hosted by John Gerhart for the wet part of this project and was quickly taken by the warmth of the developmental biology community and the range of questions that developmental biology addresses. Since then, JP has been inspired by classical questions of developmental biology such as axis formation, cell fate determination, morphogen gradient formation and tissue renewal, and strived to bring methods from other disciplines to address them. His work has questioned established dogma, uncovered new mechanisms, and brought outsiders into the developmental biology field.

JP’s work has been a firework of exciting and fundamental discoveries that have helped shape developmental biology as we know it. JP’s PhD led him to uncover the subcortical rotation, which specifies the embryonic axis of frog embryos (1). Towards the end of his PhD, molecular biology began to permeate developmental biology and he felt that he had to be part of this revolution. He was thrown in the deep end by joining the lab of Pat O’Farrell and became fascinated by the process of cell fate specification. With this in mind, he developed, in collaboration with Tim Mitchison, the first photoactivable lineage tracer and used this to show that ‘posterior identity’, as recognised by the expression of engrailed, was stable but still open to change in response to signalling.

JP’s interest in the signaling pathways that control engrailed expression led to a love affair with Wnt signaling. In one early line of research, he showed that   Catenin exists in two exchangeable pools, one devoted to cell adhesion and the other to Wnt signaling, suggesting an intimate connection between signalling and morphogenesis (2). This paradigm-building discovery remains integral to our understanding of the Wnt signalling pathway. Influenced by discussions with Peter Lawrence, JP realized that it was important to determine the range of Wnt and other signaling proteins. Over the years, JP has identified many relevant factors and processes (e.g. endocytic trafficking, glypicans and feedback inhibitors) and has demonstrated their function in shaping Wingless morphogen gradients. In recent collaborative work with the group of Yvonne Jones, JP’s group showed how the carboxylesterase Notum inactivates Wnts in the extracellular space and how the glypican Dally-like accommodates the Wnt lipid (3-4). His discoveries, fuelled by extraordinary creativity and scientific playfulness, have provided a comprehensive model for how a paradigm morphogen gradient is created and maintained. His interest in the spread of signalling molecules has led him to another long-standing collaboration, with Guillaume Salbreux. Together, they showed that GFP could be repurposed as a morphogen, a key step towards synthetic developmental biology (5).

Throughout the course of his career, JP has created many new links between developmental biology and other disciplines, most prominently cell biology, physics, structural biology and chemistry. He has contributed to adapting various techniques to the needs of developmental biology. For example, he used HRP fusion proteins to track Wingless by EM. His senior scientific officer, Cyrille Alexandre, was the first to adapt CRISPR to Drosophila. He then devised sophisticated genome engineering approaches to express reporters and modified proteins from endogenous loci. Recently, with Yohanns Bellaiche, he developed optogenetic tools to control gene expression with unparalleled spatiotemporal precision. JP embodies the true spirit of collegiality in our community and generously shares reagents as soon as they are useable.

JP has contributed to a lively discourse within the developmental biology community. He has organised many conferences, including a BSDB spring meeting, two Developmental Biology Gordon conferences and two Jacques Monod conferences on Developmental mechanisms. JP was a member of the BSDB committee from 2000 to 2005 and of the BSCB committee from 2010 to 2015. He has served as an editor at Developmental Biology, Science Signalling and Phil Trans B. He is (or has been) on the scientific advisory board/review panel of various developmental biology departments (Curie’s Unit of Genetics and Developmental Biology, EMBL’s department of Developmental Biology, Institute de Biologie du Development de Marseille, Toulouse’s Centre for Integrative Biology, the Gurdon Institute, VIB’s department of Developmental Biology). He has lectured on morphogens and morphogenesis not only in academic settings but also at the University of the Third Age and to undergraduates at Cambridge and UCL. JP has mentored many young developmental biologists both within and outside his group, and many of his trainees have developed into independent developmental biologists.

  • Alex Gould
  • Ottoline Leyser
  • Eugenia Piddini

Key papers

Seminal early work:

Vincent, J.-P., Oster, G.F., and Gerhart, J.C. (1986). Kinematics of grey crescent formation in Xenopus eggs: The displacement of subcortical cytoplasm relative to the egg surface. Dev. Biol. 113, 484-500. PMID: 3949075

Sanson, B., White, P., and Vincent, J.-P. (1996) Uncoupling Cadherin-based adhesion from Wingless signalling in Drosophila. Nature 383, 627-630. PMID: 8857539

Kakugawa, S.*, Langton, P.F.*, Zebisch, M.*, Howell, S., Chang, T.H., Liu, Y, Feizi, T., Bineva, G., O’Reilly, N., Snijder, A., Jones, Y. @, Vincent, J.P.@ (2015) Notum deacylates Wnt proteins to suppress signalling activity. Nature, 519, 187-192. PMID: 25731175

McGough, I.J.*, Vecchia, L.*, Bishop, B., Malinauskas, T., Beckett, K., Joshi, D., O’Reilly, N., Siebold, C., Jones, E.Y@ and Jean-Paul Vincent@ (2020) Glypicans shield the lipid moiety of Wnts to enable signalling at a distance. Nature, 585, 85-90. PMID: 32699409

Staporwongkul, K., de Gennes,M., Cocconi, L., Salbreux,G.*, and Vincent, J.-P.*. Patterning and growth control in vivo by an engineered GFP gradient. (2020) Science, 370, 321–327.

Join us at the Joint BSDB / Genetics Society Spring Meeting 2024

Joint BSDB / Genetics Society Spring Meeting on Developmental Genetics

Registration Now Open

  • Dates: 15th-18th April 2024
    Primary location: University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
    Organisers: Shankar Srinivas (BSDB), Tom Bennett (BSDB), Stefan Hoppler (GenSoc), David Ferrier (GenSoc), Helen Weavers (BSDB)


The British Society for Developmental Biology and the Genetics Society are pleased to announce a joint spring meeting on:

“Developmental Genetics”

We have put together an exciting and diverse programme on original perspectives in Developmental Genetics. Session topics will range from the role of Epigenetics and the Environment to Hormones, not only in Development but also in tissue Remodelling and Regeneration. The meeting will also showcase novel approaches for investigating Developmental Genetics from stem cell-mediated Embryoid Models to Mathematical and Computational Modelling. There will be special emphasis on the influence of Evolution and on having representation of a variety of animals and plants in our programme.

We are particularly excited to welcome Professors Dominique Bergmann and Nori Satoh for keynote lectures.

This conference provides the chance to network and socialise with a wide cross-section of the Genetics and Developmental Biology community. We hope you can join us in April 2024 and we look forward to welcoming you!

BSDB/Genetics Society Conference Organising Committee


Thanks to all who joined us at:

European Developmental Biology Congress 2023: A distributed meeting across Oxford, Barcelona and Paris

25th-28th September 2023


We are very pleased to announce that this year’s Waddington medal winner is Professor Marysia Placzek, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at the School of Biosciences, University of Sheffield. Marysia’s research career has led to several key contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms directing patterning of the vertebrate nervous system.

The Waddington Medal is the only national award in Developmental Biology. It honours outstanding research performance as well as services to the subject community. This year’s medal was awarded at the European Developmental Biology Congress, hosted by the BSDB at Oxford, where the recipient presented the Waddington Medal Lecture.


Marysia Placzek is an outstanding and internationally leading Developmental Biologist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of how signalling directs patterning of the vertebrate nervous system, and to leadership and pedagogy of the field. Marysia uncovered how tissue interactions and combinations of signals regulate the organisation of cell fate and assembly of neural circuits in the spinal cord and hypothalamus. Her papers are masterworks in precise observation and elegant experimental design, and many have become foundational. As deputy and then acting Director of the MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics (2007-2013), Marysia has been instrumental in building Developmental Biology research at the University of Sheffield. She subsequently established the Bateson Centre, a cross-faculty inter-disciplinary research centre, to provide a focus for translational approaches to development and disease research at the University. In addition to leading research initiatives, Marysia is a passionate Developmental Biology teacher: running modules in Developmental Biology, Developmental Neurobiology, and Stem & Regenerative Biology. She is now bringing this, more than 20 years teaching experience, to a new role as co-editor, along with Cheryll Tickle, of Lewis Wolpert’s core textbook “Principles of Development”.

Following PhD research on proviral integration sites in mouse mammary carcinomas with Gordon Peters at the ICRF (1987-1992), Marysia moved to New York as a post-doc with Jane Dodd at Columbia University. During this time, she made two fundamental, textbook changing, contributions to our understanding of neural development. With Marc Tessier-Lavigne, she demonstrated that spinal cord floor-plate cells secrete a diffusible factor that influences the pattern and orientation of commissural axon growth (Nature 1988); this discovery presaged characterisation of the Netrin family of axon guidance molecules. She then went on to define the crucial role of the notochord/floor plate in patterning the central nervous system along its dorso-ventral axis (Science, 1990). The discovery of this fundamental tissue interaction underpinned the subsequent identification of Sonic hedgehog as the mediator of this activity, a breakthrough to which Marysia also contributed. As an independent investigator, Marysia has focussed on the role of the most anterior axial mesoderm, the prechordal plate, which emerges from the primitive streak just prior to the notochord. Marysia and her team have uncovered the mechanisms by which the prechordal plate orchestrates development of the hypothalamus (Cell 1997) and described the development of hypothalamic progenitors. A key discovery is the existence of a modified floor plate-like cell that displays stem cell-like characteristics and that gives rise to discrete hypothalamic progenitor cell populations, involving a mechanism that links cell specification and anisotropic growth (Developmental Cell 2006; Development 2017). By combining fate-mapping studies, classic embryological manipulations and cutting-edge molecular approaches, Marysia’s work is uncovering the developmental origins of these earliest hypothalamic stem/progenitor cells, and the signals that induce and constrain them (Development 2017; Cell Reports 2022). Together, her studies provide a roadmap for hypothalamic development, from its induction, to regionalisation, to neurogenesis, and challenge the widely accepted prosomere model of forebrain organization. Moreover, Marysia’s identification of this stem-like population in the embryo led to her work in the adult mouse, and one of the first detailed descriptions of the maintenance of neurogenic progenitors in the postnatal hypothalamus (Nature Comms. 2013), a paper that is widely cited as evidence for an adult hypothalamic stem cell niche.

Marysia is an embryologist par excellence and is known for her supportive mentoring of trainees. Her work is characterised by remarkable insight into tissue organisation of the early nervous system and an extraordinary ability to identify, dissect and manipulate unique cell populations. Her independent work has elucidated intrinsic and environmental mechanisms that regulate hypothalamic stem and progenitor cells across the life course. Marysia’s contributions to research have been recognised by award of the Otto Mangold Prize from the German Society for Developmental Biology (1999) and the MRC Suffrage Science Heirloom (2012). She has and continues to take a leading role in the Developmental Biology community and beyond. On return from USA as a new PI and new mother, she ran (with husband Andy Furley), an Autumn meeting for the BSDB (baby on hip), and faithfully sends her students and post-docs to BSDB meetings. Marysia has been a member of numerous funding panels for MRC, BBSRC, CRUK, and Wellcome Trust (see CV) and she is the current Chair of the new Wellcome Cell Biology, Development and Physiology Discovery Advisory Group. She is a very deserving candidate for the Waddington Medal.

  • Kate Storey
  • James Briscoe

Key papers

Seminal early work:

Tessier-Lavigne, M., Placzek, M., Lumsden, A., Dodd, J. and Jessell, T.  (1988) Chemotropic guidance of developing axons in the mammalian central nervous system. Nature 336  775-778.

Placzek M, Tessier-Lavigne M, Yamada T, Jessell TM and Dodd J (1990).  Mesodermal control of neural cell identity:  floor plate induction by the notochord.  Science 250 985-988.

Independent research:

Dale K, Vesque C, Lints T.J. Sampath T.K, Furley A, Dodd J, and Placzek M.  (1997).  Co-operation of BMP7 and SHH in the Induction of forebrain ventral midline cells by prechordal mesoderm.  Cell 90 257-269

Manning E., Ohyama K., Saeger B., Hatano O, Wilson S., Logan M. and Placzek M. (2006).  Regional morphogenesis in the hypothalamus: a BMP-Tbx2 pathway co-ordinates fate and proliferation through Shh downregulation. Developmental Cell 11 873-885

Fu T, Towers M and Placzek M. (2017) Fgf10+ progenitors give rise to the chick hypothalamus by rostral and caudal growth and differentiation. Development 144(18):3278-3288

Kim DW, Place E, Chinnaiya K, Manning E, Sun C, Dai W, Groves I, Ohyama K, Burbridge S, Placzek M, Blackshaw S. (2022) Single-cell analysis of early chick hypothalamic development reveals that hypothalamic cells are induced from prethalamic-like progenitors. Cell Reports 38(3):110251.

Robins S, Stewart I, McNay DE, Taylor V, Giachino C, Goetz M, Ninkovic J, Briancon N, Maratos-Flier E, Flier JS, Kokoeva MV and Placzek M (2013) Alpha-tanycytes of the adult hypothalamic third ventricle include distinct populations of FGF-responsive neural progenitors. Nat. Commun. 4 2049