22 August 2022
Sally Lowell is a developmental and stem cell biologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “My group is interested in how cells build embryos and tissues, and how we can control the behaviour of these cells in culture,” she explained. She is particularly interested in the local ‘conversations’ that cells have when communicating with their neighbours, and how these local interactions can affect their fate within the developing embryo. Sally’s lab is developing tools to ‘listen in’ on the communications between cells. They are also investigating how differences in cell adhesion and tissue morphology can affect this communication.
Sally became interested in this area during her PhD with Fiona Watt, when she found that stem cells in skin are influenced by their neighbours. She explained that, while it is possible to consider the cell as an individual (making its own decisions internally), or as part of a population subject to global control from signals such as morphogens, she likes to think about “the idea that cells work in little local communities”. This added layer of control might explain why the path from stem cell to specific lineage can vary between individual cells when local communication breaks down.
Sally sits on the British Society for Developmental Biology’s (BSDB) committee, which is supported by funding from The Company of Biologists to run community conferences, provide travel grants for early-career researchers looking to attend scientific meetings, and fund summer studentships. “Through the BSDB I could really see how The Company of Biologists benefits the scientific community via its work with scientific societies,” Sally explained. “I have also personally benefitted from the Company’s work in the past by attending their fantastic Workshops.”
Given her awareness of the Company’s charitable activities, Sally was pleased to join us as a Director in 2019. Sally told us that one of the most rewarding projects she has been a part of while working with The Company of Biologists is our Sustainable Conferencing Initiative. “The biggest challenge facing us is climate change,” she said. “As a meetings organiser for the BSDB, I noticed this disconnect between concern about climate change and the fact that we as a scientific community were still organising conferences that involved attendees flying in from all over the world. So, one reason I was really delighted to join The Company of Biologists was that Kate Storey told me about her exciting plans for supporting scientists while limiting our effect on climate change.” Sally now chairs this initiative, which she hopes will have a positive impact on the community as we all try to improve our sustainability.