The function of the heart is to distribute blood around the body. It does so with high efficiency and without mixing oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. This is achieved by forming an elaborate and exact structure comprising of distinct chambers, delicate valves and septa all assembled with precision to ensure correct alignment with the major vessels. Any defects that occur during the formation of these elements result in structural defects, collectively known as congenital heart defects. In order to repair such defects, we must first understand how the heart is formed. During development, the heart begins as a simple symmetrical field of cells that undergoes differentiation, cellular migration, cellular transitions (such as endoMT) and cell shape changes.

Using the translucent zebrafish model, our team employs fluorescent transgenic reporter strains and genetic mutant lines to interrogate the cellular and genetic regulation of heart development. Our group’s research aims to understand how to build a heart.

Traineeships, honours and PhD projects include

  • Studying the cellular organisation of the heart tube and the cell shape changes that occur (via cell-cell signalling) to accommodate heart morphogenesis
  • Investigating zebrafish mutants with heart morphology defects and studying why the affected gene is required for normal patterning of the heart

Project members

Group Leader

Dr Jennifer Smith

Research Officer
Institute for Molecular Bioscience