Professor George Koentges
Phone: 024 765 74281
Research ClustersCells & Development
Vacancies and Opportunities
For PhD and postdoctoral opportunities, and interest in potential collaborations, please contact me at the above email address
We are interested in deciphering the complex signalling relationships between the developing skull and the underlying brain by combining the power of developmental genetics, lineage analysis and in vivo single cell imaging across vertebrate systems. One key organizing tissue, the embryonic neural crest, has been the focus of my attention for the past 2 decades. Understanding how it interacts and builds complex patterns of bones and muscles and what it influences (i.e. the brain) and how this has changed over hundreds of millions of years is a great challenge. Deciphering this has relevance for the deep evolution of the vertebrate skeleton & the skeletomuscular system. This also pertains to understanding the exact causes and time courses responsible for devastating human craniofacial ailments such as microcephaly, sometimes caused by viruses such as Zika. Our main conceptual interest is to track lineages across organisms, look at its evolution through ontogenetic and deep time in order to understand both their evolutionary history responsible for the diversity of craniofacial shapes as well as their biomedical relevance to understand complex human diseases. These lineages become cryptic, not visible easily by eye but require fancy genetics and fancy microscopes to be revealed.
Research: Technical Summary
We are trying to understand the development of the vertebrate skull and how the relevant embryonic tissues interact with the developing brain at the molecular and cellular level in development and evolution. We enjoy tracing cell lineages and other biological phenomena across scales of organization from gene-regulation to macroevolutionary anatomical novelties Nature vol 451 No 7179 pp 658-663 Feb 2008 10/1038/451658a paper
All our projects harness the power of comparative transgenesis, conditional transgenesis and gene ablation, lineage and molecular studies in combination with live imaging in different vertebrate systems.
We look at basic molecular mechanisms of cellular communication and lineage choice in the assembly of complex 3 or 4-dimensional structures, in this case the skull and brain. We realized that the basic mechanisms for dermal bone and endochondral ossification are poorly known and need to be worked out first. We study this in order to decipher how these systems evolve in ontogenetic and deep evolutionary time, at a time when the head, dermal and endochondral skeleton of vertebrates first evolved. To this end we collaborate with palaeontologists and other developmental biologists of complementary expertise.
When some of these molecular interactions between the developing brain and skull go wrong, human illnesses occur. In this context we study the Chiari1 malformation with clinicians and more recently microcephaly, which is relevant to the current and fast evolving Zika pandemic that has started to spread across the globe. If we can make a positive difference then we will.
Beyond some immediate scientific interests I take great interest and care in the education of the researcher of the future, when I am no longer. We have recently done some very exciting crowd-sourcing experiments in vertebrate developmental biology with our Year3 and Year2 students that will become public in the near future. So I am always keen on sharing my passions and interacting with computer science students and specialists from other disciplines, to solve problems of joint interest.
For a full list of publications, see WRAP
1988: German High-school (Apostelgymnasium), focus on Classics and Biology
1988-1989 Military service, German Army.
1989-1997: Fellow of German National Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes) for undergraduate and PhD studies.
1989-1994 Studies in Tuebingen and Freiburg: Trained in comparative vertebrate anatomy, genetics, palaeontology, vertebrate embryology and (largely) Greek philosophy. Diplombiologe (equivalent to BSc)
1994-1997:PhD with Professor Andrew Lumsden FRS in vertebrate embryology: Work on the role of neural crest in craniofacial pattern. This work discovered how neural crest segmentation is maintained in the segmentally specific pattern of skeleto-muscular connections, it has taught us how muscles get anchored to the right places in the skull. This work was awarded the Thomas Henry Huxley Prize 1998 for the best zoological PhD thesis in the UK/N.Ireland.
1997-2001: Human Frontiers Long term fellow and BASF special postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. Also awarded EMBO fellowship (but I declined it). Work with Professor Catherine Dulac (Harvard) and Nobel Prize winner Richard Axel on the development and wiring of the olfactory system (pheromonal perception system): work on genetically tracing neuronal circuitry. Development of novel methods to expression-profile single cells on microarrays using laser-capture microscopy, a technique still being used in the lab.
April 2001-March 2007: Senior Lecturer in Functional Genomics and Evolutionary biology at UCL (WIBR). Discovery of a novel origin of the neck and shoulder region (Matsuoka et al. Nature 2005). Refocus of work into areas of gene-regulation within stem cells. 2 Wellcome Trust Programme Grants, 1BBSRC Project grant, 1 ARC grant, several smaller grants.
Since April 2007: Professor of Genomic Systems Biology and Evolution,University of Warwick, School of Life Sciences
Human Frontiers Programme Grant (as Principle Investigator), 2 MRC grants and several Charity grants. Focus on fundamental aspects of gene regulation and how these relate to anatomical features and how these have been subjected to evolutionary change of craniofacial structures. A most recent MRC project grant (starting Dec 2015 for 4 yrs) with my colleague Prof Nick Dale will examine the role of neural crest lineages in postnatal and adult breathing control.