The Beddington Medal is the BSDB’s major commendation to promising young biologists, awarded for the best PhD thesis in Developmental Biology defended in the year previous to the award. Rosa Beddington was one of the greatest talents and inspirational leaders in the field of developmental biology. Rosa made an enormous contribution to the field in general and to the BSDB in particular, so it seemed entirely appropriate that the Society should establish a lasting memorial to her. The design of the medal, mice on a stylised DNA helix, is from artwork by Rosa herself.
Wajid Jawaid is a national trainee in Paediatric Surgery in the London Deanery currently based at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. Alongside his clinical work, Wajid has maintained a strong interest in research. His interests lie in the early development of mammalian embryos and how this relates to the challenging congenital anomalies he faces in his neonatal and paediatric patients. Wajid’s PhD work has identified novel pathways by studying murine gastrulation and early organogenesis at a single cell level. This has required him to develop molecular approaches together with the development of novel computational methods.
While working as a practising paediatric surgeon, Wajid was inspired to take on a PhD in 2014 under the supervision of Prof. Berthold Göttgens and Prof. Jenny Nichols at the Wellcome-MRC Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge. Here, he learnt how defects in the early lineage specification events of mammalian embryos can explain many of the tragic infant deformities that he was faced with in his clinic. In preparation for his PhD, he had previously undertaken and MPhil in Computational Biology at the Department of Mathematics and Applied Physics at the University of Cambridge, for which he was awarded a distinction. Thus, it is easy to see how his foundations in three alternate disciplines (medicine, computer science and embryology) has enabled him to produce a PhD thesis of exceptionally high quality, for which he is deserving of the 2020 BSDB Beddington award.
Wajid contributed to eight papers during his PhD, two of which were as first author. For his co-first author publication in 2016, Wajid pioneered a novel approach to investigate mesoderm formation by generating the first single cell transcriptome analysis of early mouse gastrulae. He found that Tal1, a transcription factor initially believed to be required to pause nascent mesoderm in an uncommitted state, is not essential for diverting cells exiting the primitive streak from precocious cardiac development. Wajid’s contribution to this study included dissection of early postimplantation mouse embryos (E6.5), as well as processing and analysis of the scRNAseq data. For his co-first author paper of 2018, a more ambitious RNAseq data set was generated from embryos of a range of stages to enable a deeper understanding of cell fate decisions during gastrulation to be garnered. Wajid masterminded and organised the timed mating for embryo production, and recruited the dissection team, since this large-scale undertaking required rapid collection of single cells.
In addition to his work in in the lab, he used his expanding computational skills to contribute extensively to the bioinformatics analysis. Wajid generated an interactive web tool and personally instructed members and associates of the gastrulation consortium on its operation. This ambitious study contributed novel understanding of how somatic cell types may be ordered and, crucially, revealed a role for leukotriene induction, via Alox5 and its cofactor, Alox5a, in specification of erythromyeloid progenitors from haemogenic endothelium precursors. Wajid then returned to the lab to employ an in vitro assay using embryonic stem cells to demonstrate a role for leukotriene in driving blood formation.
Outside of these major contributions of his PhD work, Wajid collaborated extensively and is a co-author on multiple studies. These include a project with Shlomit Edri and Alfonso Martinez Arias to explore the transcriptomic signature marking neuromesodermal progenitors in aggregates of mouse embryonic stem cells allowed to develop in 3D culture, or gastruloids. He also worked with mouse embryos to study the role of Nanog during gastrulation together with a visiting PhD student, Julio Sainz de Aja. In addition, he contributed to a larger group of researchers who together performed dynamic single cell RNAseq analysis of mouse embryos during gastrulation.
Wajid is now established in Cambridge as a paediatric surgeon, and has established a career plan with his head of department to return to developmental biology as a surgeon scientist later this year, a very rare breed of individuals who combine an active career in surgery with research at the bench.
Finally I leave you with some thoughts on Wajid from our 2017 Cheryll Tickle award winner- Prof. Jenny Nichols:
“I am comforted to know that sick children will benefit from the depth of knowledge and dexterity Wajid acquired during his PhD that will ensure the best possible treatment for them at the hands of a genuinely compassionate and competent individual”.
“It was always a pleasure for me to work at the bench alongside Wajid; his enthusiasm, wit and generally sunny disposition, even at antisocial times of night, made the experiments a lot of fun, and I knew I could rely on his reagents and high standards to ensure a meaningful (and publishable) outcome. Wajid’s participation in various projects was also in demand further afield”.
Ben Steventon and Jenny Nichols.