Dr Matthew Towers

Dr Matthew Towers

Reader of Developmental Biology
Wellcome Senior Fellow in Basic Biomedical Science

Department of Biomedical Science and the Bateson Centre
The University of Sheffield
Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN
United Kingdom

Room: D18c Firth Court
Telephone: +44 (0)114 222 4697
Email: m.towers@sheffield.ac.uk
Lab website: towerslab.weebly.com/

Patterning & Morphogenesis Bateson Centre
Developmental Biology


Brief career history

  • 2017-present: Reader of Developmental Biology, University of Sheffield
  • 2017- present: Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow, University of Sheffield
  • 2011-2016: MRC Career Development Fellow, University of Sheffield
  • 2010-2011: Independent researcher, University of Sheffield
  • 2007-2010: Postdoctoral researcher, University of Bath
  • 2005-2007: Postdoctoral researcher, University of Dundee
  • 2003-2004: Research assistant, University of East Anglia, Norwich
  • 1998-2003: PhD, John Innes Centre, Norwich
  • 1995-1998: BSc Genetics, University of Leeds

Research interests

Vertebrate limb development.

Professional activities and awards

Full publications


Vertebrate Limb Development

Lay summary
We are interested in how complex structures are correctly formed in the body. The crucial events that control how we develop occur during the earliest stages of life in the embryo. In particular, our research is centred on how limbs develop and we mostly work on chicken embryos because we can look directly at how they develop by opening a small window in the egg.

We want to understand how cells divide for the correct number of times in order to generate correctly patterned limbs. This research is important because it can give insights into the mechanisms that cause cells to lose control of cell division and turn into cancerous tumours. In addition, by revealing how digits develop, we can use this knowledge to understand the causes of birth defects that affect the limb and other structures in the body.

Technical summary
Understanding how embryonic development is timed and scaled remains one of the most important questions in biology. Knowledge of this will inform many areas of embryonic patterning and will also have implications for stem cell development, regenerative biology and clinical disorders. A major reason why this problem remains unanswered is that it is extremely difficult to understand whether the behaviour of a cell is determined intrinsically or by extrinsic signals in vivo. In our recent publications, we have shown that intrinsic timing mechanisms play a crucial role in chick limb patterning (Chinnaiya et al., Nat Comm 2014) (Saiz-Lopez et al., Nat Comm 2015). We have demonstrated this by coupling embryological techniques with modern molecular analyses in the chick limb, which is a classical developmental model.

At present the questions we are focussing on are:

  1. Do cell cycle regulators form the basis of intrinsic timers?
  2. How are intrinsic timers integrated with extrinsic signals to control growth and patterning and is developmental time reversible?
  3. How do intrinsic timers and extrinsic signals scale species-specific development?
  4. Role of cell cycle regulators in hypothalamic patterning (with Prof. Marysia Placzek).


Left - Normal chick wing digit skeleton following replacement of the polarizing region with a GFP-expressing polarizing region. Cells derived from the polarizing region (green) form a thin stripe of cells along the margin of the most-posterior digit

Right - Classical grafting experiment in which a GFP-expressing chick wing polarizing region grafted to the anterior margin of another chick wing bud induces a mirror image duplication of the digits.

Current lab members

Members - Towers Lab

Selected publications

Journal articles