Research Group of Professor Jim Smith, University of Cambridge

Research Group of Professor Jim Smith, University of Cambridge

Professor Jim Smith is Chairman of the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. Jim heads a group of scientists who study mesoderm formation during vertebrate embryogenesis, concentrating particularly on amphibian development.

The team uses Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis to study mesoderm-inducing signals such as the nodal-related genes and derrière, the signal transduction pathways used by these factors (especially the Smad proteins), and the genes that are activated as immediate-early responses to induction. These responding genes include members of the T box family such as Brachyury, which responds to mesoderm-inducing factors in a strict close-dependent fashion and which, when mis-expressed, can cause prospective ectodermal cells to form mesoderm. The study of mesoderm formation is of great interest in itself, not least because the results should help efforts to direct stem cells down particular developmental pathways. Furthermore, study of Brachyury provides a superb system for analysing the effects of ‘morphogens’.

Jim took his first degree at Cambridge, before gaining his PhD at London University under the direction of the distinguished embryologist, Professor Lewis Wolpert. This was followed by post-doctoral research at Harvard before he returned to England, becoming a staff member at the National Institute of Medical Research in 1984. Jim became Chairman of the Gurdon Institute, which is dedicated to research in the areas of developmental biology and cancer biology, in 2001. He is an enthusiastic marathon runner, and indeed Improvision has sponsored Jim in the past in his efforts to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Jim and his group have been using Openlab for imaging since 2000. More recently they have added Volocity to their imaging tools, which is used to control an OptiGrid structured light device that provides fast, confocal quality images from their standard Leica DBIRB microscope.

Jim’s colleague Kevin Dingwell writes "With Volocity we can easily develop complex time lapse experiments without the need for a degree in programming. The level of difficulty of managing our 4D experiments has increased since we have added a controlled XY stage in order to boost the number of explants we image from a single experiment. Volocity has been a boon: it’s easy to set up multi-channel 4D experiments with multiple samples and get confocal quality images out at the end."

Visit the Lab’s web page for more detailed information about the group’s research.


Four images taken from a time lapse movie showing cleavage of a Xenopus egg to a blastula stage embryo, reproduced with the permission of former Smith Lab member Dr Huw Williams. Download the whole movie below:
Cleavage from one cell to blastula stage embryo