BSDB/BSCB Joint Annual Spring Meeting 2022: A meeting from by Tamina Lebek

BSDB/BSCB Joint Annual Spring Meeting 2022

  • Jointly with BSCB
  • date: 3rd-6th April 2022
  • location: University of Warwick
  • organisers: Raman Das, Jens Januschke, Alison Twelvetrees, Tom Nightingale, Susana Godhino, Sally Lowell.
  • PhD reps: Lara Busby and Rowan Taylor
  • Post-Doc reps: Anahi Binagui-Casas and Alex Fellows

Written by Tamina Lebek (University of Edinburgh)

2022 BSDB Beddington Medal Winner: Guillermo Serrano Najera

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.


Like many years, it was a tough decision for the BSBD committee to choose a winner for the 2022 Beddington medal. We are pleased to announce that this goes to Guillermo Serrano Najera, for his PhD work at the University of Dundee on chick gastrulation.

Guillermo brings to his work huge range of expertise and approaches, that together have enabled him to produce an outstanding PhD thesis. The central core of his work was aimed at understanding how the balance of different cellular behaviours can drive coordinated morphogenesis at the whole embryo level during chick gastrulation. He discovered that two essential parameters are sufficient to generate modes of gastrulation evident in cross-species comparisons of gastrulation in a range of vertebrates: the size and shape of mesoderm specification, and the presence of absence of EMT in the control of cell ingression. This discovery depended on the use system-wide live imaging and analysis to probe the full range of cell behaviours appearing in response to chemical inhibition of key pathways controlling early development. To achieve this, Guillermo developed and enhanced computational pipelines to deal with large (+TB) imaging datasets and extract the relevant parameters for his downstream analysis.

The next step in his work was to be able to probe his imaging datasets to determine regions where the embryo undergoes changes in the rates of compaction, expansion, and strain with respect to neighbouring regions. For this, he applied particle image velocimetry (PIV) analysis, a method that could compliment the physical modelling of the process by his collaborator Mattia Serra, in the Mahadevan lab at Harvard. He was also able to analyse individual cell behaviours directly in his datasets through the application of cell segmentation and tracking tools. A second independent project was developed where Guillermo was able to demonstrate previously unstudied bursts of cell ingression anterior to the primitive streak.

In what Guillermo describes as his ‘lockdown project’, when unable to get into the lab for his imaging experiments, a very distinct line of research took him to better understanding of how eusociality evolved in the Naked mole-rat. Eusociality is a social organisation typically associated with insects (Bees, Ants, termites) where most members renounce to reproduce, and specialise in  activities that serve the community, such as digging, defence and pup-caring while a queen produce offspring. Together with his collaborator Koryu Kin (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Guillermo proposed that the evolution of Eusocial behaviours could in fact be reflective of self-domesticaton. Domesticated species possess a series characteristic traits that could be produced by a mild-neurocristopathy  (i.e. a defect in neural crest development). They argue that a mild-neurocristopathy can explain many of the NMR’s unusual traits from their behaviour and appearance to its resistance to pain.

And there is more.. As part of an placement in industry (at Exscientia), Guillermo has filed a patent and published a first-author paper in which he developed new computational pipelines that can identify hotspots for potential investments from the pharmaceutical industry. This involves the use of deep learning to detect genes that are trending in the scientific literature. FINALLY, he collaborated with Julia Terreros (Universidad Automoma de Madrid), in the development of computational pipelines for the automated detection of neurons and organelles in challenging immuno-stained samples.


Selected papers:

Chuai & G. Serrano Nájera, et al. (2021). Reconstruction of distinct vertebrate gastrulation modes by modulating key cell behaviours in the chick embryo. 10.1101/2021.10.03.462938.

Serra, G. Serrano Nájera, et al. (2021). A mechanochemical model recapitulates distinct vertebrate gastrulation modes. 10.1101/2021.10.03.462928.

2022 BSDB Wolpert Medal Winner: Andreas Prokop

Following last year’s 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 the second winner of the BSDB Wolpert medal will be Prof. Andreas Prokop from the University of Manchester.

Andreas has done a huge amount of highly valuable work in the teaching and advocation of developmental biology. Andreas has established the Manchester Fly Facility as a major hub for teaching, training, and outreach activities for the fly community. Their training package has been downloaded over 30,000 times and provides a complete training to get people started in using Drosophila as a powerful research model. At least one of these downloads can be attributed to our current BSDB chair, who can testify to its usefulness!

The droso4schools online resource provides an exemplar for the developmental biology community on how to provide easy access to resources that can be directly provided to schools in the communication of science.  In multiple languages, it provides lesson plans that together teach curriculum-relevant fundamentals of developmental biology and genetics in fun and enticing ways whilst introducing GCSE/A-level students to the use of Drosophila. The list of almost 80 schools that the programme has collaborated with and testimony from teachers on six continents is a clear demonstration to its success and longevity.

For those looking to engage the public with fly research beyond engaging with schools is the droso4public resource, providing a huge collection of movies, animations and guidance on how to develop one’s own engagement activity. Andreas has written extensively on this topic and provides in depth and thoughtful advice and strategies on how to engage effectively with the public about our research (Patel and Prokop; 2015, 2017). Another example is the edition of a special issue in Sem Cell Dev Biol entitled “Science communication in the field of fundamental biomedical research” which had over 50,000 downloads in the first 30 months after publication. Andrea’s personal contributions to public engagement are numerous, but one event stands out in particular due to its scale and reach. Housed in the Town Hall of central Manchester, the Brain Box event had over 5400 visitors on one day involving all three Manchester Unis, the city council, NHS, museums, charities and artists. It enabled visitors to explore what we know of the mysteries of the human brain through a series of interconnected experiences, and alongside an exciting talks and performances.

During his time as Communications Officer for the BSDB, Andreas made major contributions to the ways that we as a society communicate and advocate for our science. The advocacy page of our website provides valuable pointers on how to communicate the impact and reach of developmental biology research to a non-expert audience. Importantly, this page holds a complete list of worldwide developmental biology communities and networks that help to broaden our society’s reach. Information and guidance on public engagement activities are also detailed on the outreach page and provide a valuable resource for all of us.

A major achievement for Andreas during his tenure as communications officer was to track down the BSDB archive and make it available online. This reaches back to the foundations of the society over 70 years ago. Read more about the history of the BSDB, and the tomb-cracking moment of when Andreas discovered the archive in the lab of Michael Taylor (Secretary 2008-13) in Cardiff in this blog.

Thank you, Andreas, for all your work in driving advocacy for developmental biology and providing such concrete and helpful resources in its teaching and outreach. It is an honour for the BSDB to be able to award you the second Wolpert medal, in 2022.


Selected papers:

Patel, S., Prokop, A. (2015). How to develop objective-driven comprehensive science outreach initiatives aiming at multiple audiences. bioRxiv 10.1101/023838

Patel, S., Prokop, A. (2017). The Manchester Fly Facility: Implementing an objective-driven long-term science communication initiative. Semin Cell Dev Biol, Volume 70, October 2017, Pages 38-48

2022 BSDB Waddington Medal winner: Val Wilson

The Waddington Medal is the only national award in Developmental Biology. It honours outstanding research performance as well as services to the subject community. The medal is awarded annually at the BSDB Spring Meeting, where the recipient presents the Waddington Medal Lecture.


We are very pleased to announce that this year’s Waddington medal winner is Professor Valerie Wilson, Personal Chair in Early Embryo Development at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh. Val’s research career has led to several seminal contributions to mammalian development, built on highly specialist skills in the micromanipulation and culture of mouse embryos.

Val began her research career as a PhD student in the lab of Martin Evans, in the Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge. She then moves to the lab of Rosa Beddington for her post-doctoral training where she mastered skills in the culture whole mouse embryos ex vivo, enabling her tackle fundamental problems in how the mammalian body axis is established during early development. A key contribution during this time was the use of chimeric embryos consisting of genetically marked mutant ES cells injected into wild type blastocysts. By performing this experiment with cells mutant for the early mesodermal marker, T (or brachyury), it was possible to demonstrate a cell autonomous requirement for this transcription factor in the transition of cells through the primitive streak (Wilson et al., 1995).

She then learned postimplantation mouse embryology, most crucially the micromanipulation and culture of whole embryos ex vivo, under the supervision of Rosa Beddington. During this time, she investigated the role of the transcription factor T(brachyury) in mouse antero-posterior axis elongation, using genetically marked mutant ES cells injected into wild type blastocysts to create chimeras.  These studies were early milestones in the transgenic mouse field as they showed that T cell-autonomously permits cells to pass through the primitive streak during late gastrulation to become mesoderm. Beautifully, Val has returned to this initial discovery using modern single cell sequencing technologies in collaboration with the labs of John Marioni and Göttgens to investigate the alterations in gene expression trajectories that T mutant cells take when developing in chimeric embryos (Guibentif et al.,2021).

Perhaps one of the most striking and important discoveries from Val’s career has arisen from her study of anterior-posterior body axis elongation. A series of remarkable finding involving serial transplantations of cell populations from older to younger embryos had demonstrated the existence of a population of stem cells capable of outliving their normal potential and continually giving rise to both spinal cord and paraxial mesodermal derivatives. First, in the caudal-lateral epiblast adjacent to the node (Cambray and Wilson, 2002), and later in the chordal-neural hinge (Cambray and Wilson, 2007). Recognising that to a full investigation of their biology requires lineage tracing of individual cells, Val embarked on an extensive retrospective clonal analysis study of mouse development together with her then-PhD student, Elena Tzouanacou and the lab of Jean-Francois Niçolas at the Insitut Pasteur, Paris. Through a thorough and systematic analysis of single cell clones from thousands of labelled embryos, it was possible to demonstrate the existence of a bipotent stem cell population called Neuromesodermal Progenitors that defy early germ layer specification and continue to generate both spinal cord and paraxial mesoderm derivatives throughout somitogenesis in the mouse embryo (Tzouanacou et al., 2009).

“Many of Val’s contributions are not recognised by authorship on papers. She is regularly consulted by early career researchers and group leaders from other labs seeking insights into their own data or technical help due to her micromanipulation skills. She always shares her time and expertise generously while asking nothing in return. Therefore, many of her valuable contributions to the community and the field remain largely unseen”.

  • Anahi Binagui-Casas

Val’s contributions to our fundamental understanding of mammalian developmental biology will continue to have a long-term impact in the field. It is because of her skills in embryology and teaching that she has been able to change the way we look at the mouse embryo, and she is therefore routinely consulted by developmental biologists for help and advice. A recent contribution has included working together with Kirstie Lawson to provide a revised mouse embryo staging guide, that has been essential in informing definitions included in the eMouseAtlas.  It is such long-lasting contributions to the field that are deserving of the BSDB Waddington medal, 2022.

Selected papers:

Wilson, V., Manson, L., Skarnes, W. C. & Beddington, R. S. (1995) The T gene is necessary for normal mesodermal morphogenetic cell movements during gastrulation. Development 121, 3, p. 877-86 10 p.

Carolina Guibentif, Jonathan A. Griffiths, Ivan Imaz-Rosshandler, Shila Ghazanfar, Jennifer Nichols, Valerie Wilson, Berthold Göttgens, John C. Marioni (2021). Diverse Routes toward Early Somites in the Mouse Embryo, Developmental Cell, Volume 56, Issue 1.

Cambray, N., and Wilson, V. (2002). Axial progenitors with extensive potency are localised to the mouse chordoneural hinge. Development 129, 4855–4866.

Cambray, N., and Wilson, V. (2007). Two distinct sources for a population of maturing axial progenitors. Development 134, 2829–2840.

2022 Cheryll Tickle Award winner: Emma Rawlins

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 2022 awardee as Dr.  Emma Rawlins!

Emma is an international leader in the field of mammalian lung development and disease. She has been awarded the March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Award (2011), the EuroSyStem Innovative project award (2010) and has been the recipient of highly competitive MRC career development and MRC Senior Fellowships. She was promoted to Senior Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute in 2020, and is a member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. She is also co-Director of the Wellcome funded Human Developmental Biology Initiative.

Emma obtained her PhD in developmental biology from the University of Edinburgh in 2002, working with Andrew Jarman on cell fate specification in the developing Drosophila PNS. She then moved to Duke University for her Post-Doctoral work with Brigid Hogan from 2004-2009. Her work during this time is probably best described as ‘prolific’, involving a series of highly important papers characterising cell lineages and stem cell populations during the development and homeostasis and repair of the mouse lung, summarised in this review (Rawlins, 2011).

Upon establishing her independent research group in the Gurdon Institute in 2009, Emma continued her emphasis on better understanding clonal relationships of cells during mouse lung development, uncovering fundamental principles of stem cell biology as she did so (Watson et al., 2015; Balasooriya et al., 2016; Laresgoiti et al., 2016; Balasooriya et al., 2017). She then pioneered the development of human lung organoids, becoming a world leader in the use of organoid cultures to study aspects of human development and organogenesis (Nikolić et al., 2017).

More recently, Emma’s team has developed a powerful “Organoid Easytag” system to genetically manipulate human cells using CRISPR technology (Sun et al., 2021). Already, this technology is being exploited by multiple labs across the world and is opening up the study of human organogenesis even further, enabling the use of CRISPR screens to uncover novel molecular mechanisms (Sun et al., 2022).

“She (Emma) has established a very extensive network of collaborators both within and outside the University, and she places a strong emphasis on mentoring her trainees, helping them define and achieve their individual career goals. Emma is highly collegial and interactive, and she can be counted on for high quality contributions in diverse areas”.

  • Julie Ahringer and Shankar Srivinas

Clearly, Emma’s commitment to both gaining fundamental insights into developmental biology and providing a supportive environment both inside and outside her lab, makes her very deserving of the 2022 BSDB Cheryll Tickle medal!





Selected papers:

Rawlins E. L. The building blocks of mammalian lung development. (2011) Developmental Dynamics 240, 463-476.

Watson, JK, Rulands S, Wilkinson AC, Wuidart A, Ousset M, Van Keymeulen A, Göttgens B, Blanpain C, Simons BD, Rawlins EL. (2015). Clonal dynamics reveal two distinct populations of basal cells in slow turnover airway epithelium. Cell Reports 12, 90-101.

Balasooriya GI, Johnson J, Basson MA, Rawlins EL. (2016) An FGFR1-SPRY2 signalling axis limits basal cell proliferation in the steady-state airway epithelium. Developmental Cell 37, 85-97.

Laresgoiti U, Nikolić MZ, Rao C, Brady JL, Richardson RV, Batchen EJ, Chapman KE and Rawlins EL (2016) Lung epithelial tip progenitors integrate Glucocorticoid and STAT3-mediated signals to control progeny fate. Development 143, 3686-3699.

Balasooriya GI, Goschorska M, Piddini E, Rawlins EL (2017) FGFR2 is required for airway basal cell self-renewal and terminal differentiation. Development 144, 1600-1606.

Nikolić MZ, Caritg O, Jeng Q, Johnson J, Sun D, Howell, KJ, Brady JL, Laresgoiti U, Allen G, Butler R, Zilbauer M, Giangreco A, Rawlins EL (2017) Human embryonic lung epithelial tips are multipotent progenitors that can be expanded in vitro as long-term self-renewing organoids. elife. 2017 Jun 30. doi: 10.7554/eLife.26575.

Sun D, Evans LD, Perrone F, Sokleva V, Lim K, Rezakhani S, Lutolf M, Zilbauer M, Rawlins EL (2021) A functional genetic toolbox for human tissue-derived organoids. eLife DOI: 10.7554/eLife.67886

Sun D, Batlle OL, van den Ameele J, Thomas C, He P, Lim K, Tang W, Xu C, Meyer KB, Teichmann SA, Marioni J, Jackson SP, Brand AH, Rawlins EL. An organoid CRISPRi screen revealed that SOX9 primes human fetal lung tip progenitors to receive WNT and RTK signals. BioRxiv: