Dr Mel White

Senior Research Fellow

Institute for Molecular Bioscience
melanie.white@imb.uq.edu.au
+61 7 334 62494

Overview

Dr Melanie White heads the Dynamics of Morphogenesis Lab at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), University of Queensland and is an ARC Future Fellow. She completed a PhD in Neuroscience at University College London followed by postdoctoral research at The University of Edinburgh. During this time Mel engineered viruses to modulate gene expression in the brain to investigate neuronal function and as a therapeutic approach for neurodegenerative disease. Her work was published in Neuron and PNAS, featured in Nature Reviews Neuroscience and received extensive international media coverage (including the BBC and The Guardian).

In 2012 Mel switched fields to apply quantitative imaging in developmental biology. Her work revealed key mechanisms driving the earliest morphogenetic events in mammalian embryogenesis and was published in Cell, Science, Nature Cell Biology, Developmental Cell and Nature Protocols. Her research was featured on the cover of multiple journals including Cell and she was awarded the inaugural American Society for Cell Biology Porter Prize for Research Excellence (2018).

In 2020, Mel joined the IMB where she will combine her passion for neuroscience and developmental biology to investigate the dynamics of neural tube morphogenesis.

Research overview

The brain and the spinal cord control most of the functions of the body and the mind, yet the dynamics of how they first form is poorly understood. Both structures arise from a common precursor, the neural tube, which forms very early in embryonic development. To generate the forces that sculpt and shape the neural tube, changes in cellular architecture must be tightly coordinated in space and time. These morphological rearrangements occur concurrently with biochemical signalling pathways that specify early neural cell fates.

Our research aims to understand how cellular properties and transcriptional regulators interact with mechanical forces in real time to direct vertebrate neural tube formation and neural cell fate specification. We study the dynamics of neural tube formation by applying advanced imaging technologies in transgenic avian models and human stem cell models.

Research Impacts

Incorrect formation of the neural tube leads to severe congenital malformations called neural tube defects (NTDs). These are amongst the most common birth defects affecting approximately 300,000 babies worldwide every year. Despite their prevalence, mechanisms causing NTDs in humans remain largely unknown. Our research aims to understand the molecular, cellular and mechanical processes directing neural tube formation. This knowledge is essential for determining the specific causes of NTDs and may provide potential avenues for diagnostic testing and future therapeutic treatments.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of London

Publications

View all Publications

Available Projects

  • The brain and the spinal cord control most of the functions of the body and the mind, yet the dynamics of how they first form is poorly understood. Both structures arise from a common precursor, the neural tube, which forms very early in embryonic development. Changes in cellular architecture must be tightly coordinated in space and time to generate the forces that sculpt and shape the neural tube. These morphogenetic forces are dependent on the correct regulation of the actin cytoskeleton and many actin-related proteins have been associated with neural tube defects. This PhD project will use quantitative live imaging of developing avian embryos to understand how actin networks are remodelled at the subcellular level to shape the neural tube and which are the key molecules controlling this process.

    Expressions of interest from prospective postgraduate students are welcome. For information on available research higher degree projects, please email melanie.white@imb.uq.edu.au with the following: (1) CV, including a summary of academic qualifications, work and research experience, and publication list; (2) studies report or academic transcript for undergraduate and honours degree(s); and (3) a letter outlining your research interests and career aspirations.

  • Most tissues and organs are built using a toolbox of common changes in cellular properties such as polarity, adhesion, migration and division, combined with alterations in mechanical forces at the cellular and tissue scales. Not only do cellular properties drive mechanical events within tissues, but mechanical forces also feedback to alter gene expression, signalling pathways and cellular behaviours. These reciprocal interactions are integral to development. This PhD project will utilise high-resolution long-term imaging to link events at the cellular scale to tissue scale forces during neural tube formation in developing avian embryos. Use of tissue tectonics analyses and quantification of cellular behaviours will reveal how different cellular events contribute to morphogenesis of the neural tube. Combining spatiotemporal manipulation of force generation with live cell tracking will demonstrate how the regulation of mechanical forces affects subsequent cell fate and neural tube morphogenesis.

    Expressions of interest from prospective postgraduate students are welcome. For information on available research higher degree projects, please email melanie.white@imb.uq.edu.au with the following: (1) CV, including a summary of academic qualifications, work and research experience, and publication list; (2) studies report or academic transcript for undergraduate and honours degree(s); and (3) a letter outlining your research interests and career aspirations.

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book Chapter

  • White, M. D., Bissiere, S., Alvarez, Y. D. and Plachta, N. (2016). Mouse embryo compaction. Mammalian preimplantation development. (pp. 235-58) edited by Melvin L. DePamphilis. Maryland Heights, MO, United States: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2016.04.005

  • White, Melanie D. and Plachta, Nicolas (2015). How adhesion forms the early mammalian embryo. Cellular adhesion in development and disease. (pp. 1-17) edited by Alpha S. Yap. Maryland Heights, MO, United States: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2014.11.022

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • The brain and the spinal cord control most of the functions of the body and the mind, yet the dynamics of how they first form is poorly understood. Both structures arise from a common precursor, the neural tube, which forms very early in embryonic development. Changes in cellular architecture must be tightly coordinated in space and time to generate the forces that sculpt and shape the neural tube. These morphogenetic forces are dependent on the correct regulation of the actin cytoskeleton and many actin-related proteins have been associated with neural tube defects. This PhD project will use quantitative live imaging of developing avian embryos to understand how actin networks are remodelled at the subcellular level to shape the neural tube and which are the key molecules controlling this process.

    Expressions of interest from prospective postgraduate students are welcome. For information on available research higher degree projects, please email melanie.white@imb.uq.edu.au with the following: (1) CV, including a summary of academic qualifications, work and research experience, and publication list; (2) studies report or academic transcript for undergraduate and honours degree(s); and (3) a letter outlining your research interests and career aspirations.

  • Most tissues and organs are built using a toolbox of common changes in cellular properties such as polarity, adhesion, migration and division, combined with alterations in mechanical forces at the cellular and tissue scales. Not only do cellular properties drive mechanical events within tissues, but mechanical forces also feedback to alter gene expression, signalling pathways and cellular behaviours. These reciprocal interactions are integral to development. This PhD project will utilise high-resolution long-term imaging to link events at the cellular scale to tissue scale forces during neural tube formation in developing avian embryos. Use of tissue tectonics analyses and quantification of cellular behaviours will reveal how different cellular events contribute to morphogenesis of the neural tube. Combining spatiotemporal manipulation of force generation with live cell tracking will demonstrate how the regulation of mechanical forces affects subsequent cell fate and neural tube morphogenesis.

    Expressions of interest from prospective postgraduate students are welcome. For information on available research higher degree projects, please email melanie.white@imb.uq.edu.au with the following: (1) CV, including a summary of academic qualifications, work and research experience, and publication list; (2) studies report or academic transcript for undergraduate and honours degree(s); and (3) a letter outlining your research interests and career aspirations.