Ahead of the curve: imaging and computational analysis of shape and form in the developing zebrafish ear

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Biomedical Science


This project will explore how the complex shape of the vertebrate inner ear-the organ of hearing and balance-is generated in the embryo. Within this sensory organ, the semicircular canals have a highly ordered three-dimensional arrangement, which is critical for their function. The canals consist of narrow ducts or tubes linked to ampullae, rounded chambers that house the exquisitely sensitive sensory hair cells. Formation of the ducts, ampullae and sensory tissue in the embryo requires co-ordinated changes in cell shape to generate thin or thickened epithelium, and regions of high epithelial curvature. This project aims to describe and understand these processes in the zebrafish embryo, using cutting edge imaging and computational techniques.
The successful student will use light-sheet microscopy to image the developing ear, using both wild-type and mutant zebrafish lines. Transgenic fluorescent markers are available to label cell membranes and nuclei. The student will primarily be based in the Whitfield group (biological imaging), but will work closely with the Frangi group (computational biology) to select and apply computational techniques to analyse their imaging data.
We are seeking an enthusiastic student who is keen to embrace both imaging and computational approaches to tackle a biological problem.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011151/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
1945744 Studentship BB/M011151/1 30/09/2017 07/03/2023 Ana Jones
Description During embryonic development of the zebrafish inner ear we see different structures exhibiting a range of cell shapes. The early stages of semicircular canal formation involve the genesis of epithelial projections through events of tissue folding during which the epithelium inverts its curvature. So far, I have discovered that cells in these epithelial projections change their 3D shape as the tissue folds and this is accompanied by a change in protein distribution (including cytoskeletal and adhesion proteins).
Exploitation Route The quantitative approach to analyse cell shape in 3D and protein distribution in 2D can now be applied to data from mutant zebrafish in which the semicircular canals are absent or abnormal. In addition, since tissue folding is a common mechanism in morphogenesis of other organs, the findings are not relevant just for inner ear researchers but for a more generic biology field.
Sectors Education,Healthcare

Description Zebrafish Research at The University of Sheffield 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Every year, two to three times a year, the zebrafish facility at the University of Sheffield organises school visits for a week to our Bateson Centre. Each day we present a talk on animal research, disease models and the zebrafish facility that we have; we teach about how useful and helpful studying disease in zebrafish can be (including a workshop and activities/games about zebrafish anatomy, genetics,etc); and we teach about zebrafish husbandry (showing them our aquariums).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019,2020