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Department of Zoology

 



Research

My research group is focused on investigating the evolution of embryonic form. We study how molecular patterning effects changes in cell shape and behaviour to give rise to the form of animals, and compare these processes in different species to understand how they evolve. In particular, we use insects as model study systems, but our discoveries teach us about general patterns in evolution.

Much of my work is focused on the genetic and morphogenetic basis of axial extension, that is, how the animal body becomes longer than it is wide. This is a complex process involving the coordination of cell rearrangement, cell shape changes and cell division. Axial extension is conserved across the animal tree and is being actively investigated in a range of animals, including vertebrates and non-vertebrate chordates, lophotrochozoans, nematodes, and our own arthropods. This wide breadth of research provides excellent material for considering the evolution of this crucial developmental event.

We are also interested in other morphogenetic events including gastrulation. An essential and near universal step in gastrulation is the transition of cells from the epithelial type to the mesenchymal type. This work is being pursued by Margherita Battistara in a joint project between Ewa Paluch (Professor, PDN) and myself.

 

 

Bio

I've been fascinated by all things genetics since I was a teenager, but my interest in developmental genetics and evolution started during my undergraduate degree at the University of Otago in my homeland of New Zealand. After doing my Honours project (a 1 year masters program found in NZ and Australia) with Peter Dearden and Liz Duncan on the evolution of terminal patterning in insects. My work with Peter and Liz inspired me to continue research on insect embryogenesis, and I set off to continue this as a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, UK.

During my PhD in the lab of Michael Akam, I established the beetle Tribolium castaneum as a model system for studying morphogenesis. As much as I loved genetics, I had come to recognise the importance of understanding the cellular context that genes are operating in. I also started seeing morphogenesis as the clear output of cell and tissue patterning. It's important to note that both of these points have been made by many others before me, and I was simply coming to them in my own slow time. During my PhD I learned much from my supervisor Michael Akam, and from another colleague Tassos Pavlopoulos.

More to be continued here when time allows.

 

 

Other research activities

In 2018, I founded the Cambridge Morphogenesis Club to bring together Cambridge-based researchers that work on, or are interested in, topics related to morphogenesis. We have monthly, 1 hour meetings where two club members present. Meetings are informal with a strong focus on discussion.

We have participants from more than 15 research groups spread over several departments/institutions. This covers a wide range of topics including pure embryonic morphogenesis, mathematical modeling, genetic regulation of morphogenesis, evolution, and more. If you are interested in any aspect of morphogenesis, please get in touch to sign up to our mailing list. Any mailing list member can post to it so please share relevant seminars or feel free to ask for reagents etc.

 

Publications

Key publications: 

Benton, M. A.*, Frey, N.*, Nunes da Fonseca, R., von Levetzow, C., Stappert, D., Hakeemi, M. S., Conrads, K. H., Pechmann, M., Panfilio, K. A., Lynch, J. A., Roth, S.+ (2019). Fog signaling has diverse roles in epithelial morphogenesis in insects. eLife 8, e47346.

     Preprint: Benton, M. A.*, Frey, N.*, Fonseca, R. N. da, Levetzow, C. von, Stappert, D., Hakeemi, M. S., Conrads, K. H., Pechmann, M., Panfilio, K. A., Lynch, J. A., Roth, S.+ (2019). Fog signaling has diverse roles in epithelial morphogenesis in insects. bioRxiv.

 

Benton, M. A.+ (2018). A revised understanding of Tribolium morphogenesis further reconciles short and long germ development. PLOS Biology 16, e2005093.

     Preprint: Benton, M. A.+ (2017). A revised understanding of Tribolium morphogenesis further reconciles short and long germ development. bioRxiv.

 

Benton, M. A.+, Pechmann, M., Frey, N., Stappert, D., Conrads, K. H., Chen, Y.-T., Stamataki, E., Pavlopoulos, A. and Roth, S+. (2016). Toll Genes Have an Ancestral Role in Axis Elongation. Current Biology 26, 1609–1615.

    Commentary: Mao, Q. and Lecuit, T. (2016). Evo–Devo: Universal Toll Pass for the Extension Highway? Current Biology 26, R680–R683.

 

Benton, M. A.+, Akam, M. and Pavlopoulos, A.+ (2013). Cell and tissue dynamics during Tribolium embryogenesis revealed by versatile fluorescence labeling approaches. Development 140, 3210–3220.

    Linked content: Benton, M. A.+ and Pavlopoulos, A.+ (2014). Tribolium embryo morphogenesis; May the force be with you. BioArchitecture 4, 16–21.

 

+ corresponding author

 

 

Other publications: 

Pechmann, M., Benton, M. A., Kenny, N. J., Posnien, N. and Roth, S. (2017). A novel role for Ets4 in axis specification and cell migration in the spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum. eLife 6,.

Benton, M. A.*, Kenny, N. J.*, Conrads, K. H., Roth, S. and Lynch, J. A. (2016). Deep, Staged Transcriptomic Resources for the Novel Coleopteran Models Atrachya menetriesi and Callosobruchus maculatus. PLOS ONE 11, e0167431.

     Preprint: Benton, M. A., Kenny, N. J., Conrads, K. H., Roth, S. and Lynch, J. A. (2016a). Deep, Staged Transcriptomic Resources for the Novel Coleopteran Models Atrachya menetriesi and Callosobruchus maculatus. bioRxiv.

Van Der Zee, M., Benton, M. A., Vazquez-Faci, T., Lamers, G. E. M., Jacobs, C. G. C. and Rabouille, C. (2015). Innexin7a forms junctions that stabilize the basal membrane during cellularization of the blastoderm in Tribolium castaneum. Development 142, 2173–2183.

Lin, C.-J., Smibert, P., Zhao, X., Hu, J. F., Ramroop, J., Kellner, S. M., Benton, M. A., Govind, S., Dedon, P. C., Sternglanz, R., and Lai, E. C. (2015). An extensive allelic series of Drosophila kae1 mutants reveals diverse and tissue-specific requirements for t6A biogenesis. RNA 21, 2103–2118.

Duncan, E. J., Benton, M. A. and Dearden, P. K. (2013). Canonical terminal patterning is an evolutionary novelty. Developmental Biology 377, 245–261.

 

 

 

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Contact Details

Room 2.05 David Attenborough Building
01223 (7)69012