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Prof Chris Thompson
Darwin Building, Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution (CLOE)
UCL Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment
Prof Chris Thompson profile picture
  • Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Genetics
  • Genetics, Evolution & Environment
  • Div of Biosciences
  • Faculty of Life Sciences

I am currently Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Genetics and Division of Biosciences Associate Director for Research. My lab’s research spans fundamental questions in Cell, Developmental and Evolutionary Biology. 

The major focus is cell fate choice and patterning during development, where we study the molecular basis of how cells make decisions. Identifying the fundamental mechanisms underlying the regulation of cell fate choice will enable us to better understand how embryonic pattern is generated, as well as how cooperation and multicellularity have evolved. We primarily use Dictyostelium as model organism, where we employ genetic, computational, molecular and functional genomic approaches. 

Before my lab moved to UCL in September 2017, I began my independent research career as a group leader at the University of Manchester, initially as a Lister Institute Prize Fellow and ultimately Head of the Cellular and Developmental Systems Domain Grouping, where I was a Wolfson Royal Society Awardee and Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Genetics. Previously I was a Wellcome Trust International Prize Travelling Research Fellow at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas in the laboratories of Profs G. Shaulsky and A. Kuspa, using functional genomic approaches to study signalling during cell fate choice. Prior to that, I was a postdoctoral scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where I studied small molecule signalling with Dr R.R. Kay, and the role of endocytosis in cell movement with Dr M.S. Bretscher. My PhD research on transcription factors involved in Drosophila neural and epidermal differentiation was with Prof S.J. Bray at the University of Cambridge.

Research Summary

How can cell-cell heterogeneity be harnessed during embryonic development?


Researchers have long sought to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying embryonic development. Recent observations suggest that cell-cell variation in gene network activity may play a role. For example, in stem cell cultures, all cells receive the same amount of signal, yet few cells respond. We use genetic manipulation, biochemical analysis, scRNA-seq, mathematical modelling and live imaging in the simple developmental system D. discoideum  to understand the molecular basis of this variation.


Cheaters and the evolution of cooperation


Understanding the evolution of cooperation remains a challenge, because the evolution of ‘cheaters’ that pay fewer costs should be favored. D. discoideum forms fruiting bodies consisting of hardy spores supported by dead stalk cells.  Why doesn't selection favour ‘cheater’ strains that do not become stalk cells. We have found that D. discoideum strains recognise one another and can change their social ‘cheating’ strategies. We are now trying to understand the molecular or genetic pathways underpinning these behaviours.  


Functional Genomics in Dictyostelium


Sequencing genomes is easy, but understanding the function of each gene remains a challenge. We have employed a new technique, REMI-seq, to generate large numbers of Dictyostelium mutants and then identify the disrupted gene by NGS. This allows researchers to screen for mutants that exhibit changes in fitness to any challenge, a step change in Dictyostelium genetics.

Teaching Summary

BIOL0008 Module Organiser and Lecturer 2nd Year 'Fundamentals of Molecular Biology'

BIOL0048 Lecturer 3rd year 'Behavioural Ecology for the Anthropocene'

BIOL0025 Lecturer 3rd year 'Advanced Molecular Biology: Genomics and Evolution'

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