Developmental biologist Kat Hadjantonakis works to gain insights into the critical events that direct the formation and shape of mammalian embryos. We spoke with Dr. Hadjantonakis about her work in 2009.I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t intrigued by science. When it came time to pick my major as an 18-year-old entering college, my first inclination was to go to medical school, which, in the United Kingdom, is begun as an undergraduate. Two months before school was to start, I had a change of heart, deciding that my real interests were in research.
In 1987, I enrolled at Imperial College London to pursue a degree in biochemistry. My only exposure to developmental biology as an undergraduate was in fruit flies. It wasn’t until I went on for my PhD in molecular genomics, also at Imperial College, that I began working in the mouse, and this led to the development (excuse the pun!) of my interest in the embryo. After all, what was the point of mapping the genome if one did not go on to probe its function?
My fascination with the mouse embryo hit me like a lightning bolt. As a new doctoral student, I attended a seminar given by Rosa Beddington, a giant in the field of mouse embryology. She opened my eyes to the intricacy of the mouse embryo, and I said to myself, “I need to work for this person.”
Within the following year, I arranged to do a postdoctoral fellowship with her. Unfortunately for me, Rosa, who was at the Centre for Genome Research (now renamed the Institute for Stem Cell Research) in Edinburgh, decided at this time to move to London. I saw my postdoc fellowship as a perfect opportunity to leave London, where I had essentially spent my entire life up to that point, so I asked Rosa if she could recommend any other labs.
She suggested that I work for her graduate school colleague Janet Rossant, a world leader in developmental biology who was at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute (SLRI) in Toronto. Janet had helped to pioneer the basis of modern day mouse embryology and the use of embryonic stem cells to generate genetically modified mice. I was very excited to accept a position in her lab in 1996.