Project Highlights:

  • Live imaging and migration modelling
  • Evolution of hard tissues
  • Analysis of Synchtron images of earliest fossil bones and extant animals

The origin of dermal skeleton is one of the most significant evolutionary inventions deep in the gnathostome stem  lineage. Amongst others we are studying a biomineral tissue called aspidin, its architecture and what it can tell us about the early origins and development of bone biomineral. In a parellel track we are investigating cell migration during the earliest development of mammalian bones. We recently discovered that evolutionarily early biomineral and ontogenetically early biomineral share many structural and likely molecular properties. and use state-of=the art image analysis and cellular modelling to unravel the dispersion principles of cells and their relationship to the deposition of biomineral. The PhD proposal will combine the two strands, grounding in Evolutinary biology (GK,RA,PD), image generation (GK), analysis (RA,GK) with existing and to be generated images of synchrotron sources of extant and fossil bones. Meshing these two strands together will provide a deep mechanistic insight into the driving factors of a critical phase of vertebrate organic biomineralization and evolution.


In vivo imaging of bone growth, ImageJ based cell tracking (all established), cell analysis, biomineral quantitation. Modelling of dispersion dynamics . Synchrotron scanning of fossil and extant biomineral, image processing/segmentation.

Training and Skills

Prof Georgy Koentges will provide training in evolutionary biology, cellular and evolutionary analysis, molecular biology and image analysis. Prof Robin Allaby will provide training in modelling. Students will learn how to harness image analysis to study cellular dispersion, integrate this with architectural (landscape’) features of biomineral and place observations into a strict phylogenetic context. Cellular modelling is a transferrable skill as it can also be used for modelling fluxes of organisms and migration patterns (Levy flights etc) through Ecosystems. Image analysis is the mainstay of state-of-the art biology applications.

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 


Year 1: image acquisition both extant and fossil, learn techniques of image analysis.

Year 2: Extend data corpus and start writing manuscripts.

Year 3: completion, phylogenetic analysis,biomineral analysis

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Phil Donoghue, our collaborator, is a world-renown researcher of early vertebrate histology and evolution.

Further Details

This PhD studentship will be embedded in a longs-standing collaborative effort between our respective labs to unravel the molecular and cellular processes deep in vertebrate biomineral evolution. Please feel free to contact GK for further details on this project. Students need to enjoy sophisticated data analysis and can come from a variety of backgrounds (including engineering, maths, physics).