News Release

The enigma of embryonic development: How certain animals trim their genomes

New research is underway to decipher a fascinating biological puzzle—how some animals can naturally discard more than half of their genetic information during embryonic development.

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Warwick

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Credit: Credit University of Warwick


New research is underway to decipher a fascinating biological puzzle—how some animals can naturally discard more than half of their genetic information during embryonic development.


This radical natural phenomenon has captivated scientists for over 130 years, presenting a tantalizing question in the field of developmental biology and genetics.


Equipped with the latest in genetic engineering tools, the team at The University of Warwick is working to dissect the mechanisms behind this selective genomic editing. By uncovering the processes that allow some nematode worms to abandon up to 60% of the genetic material of some of their cells, the researchers hope to develop biotechnological tools that could enable large-scale, precise genomic alterations. These can be applied in different areas – from engineering models of hereditary diseases, helping to drive medical advancements and treatments, to improving crop resilience to harsh environmental conditions in the agricultural industry.


The new study is part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Pioneer Awards, which could revolutionise our understanding of the rules of life. Sixty two  researchers across the UK, including Professor Andre Pires da Silva at the University of Warwick, are to receive a share of £12 million to pursue visionary bioscience research.


By drawing upon unconventional thinking and approaches, the investigators hope to make exciting discoveries with the potential to transform our understanding of the fundamental rules of life. These new investigations aim to radically change the way we think about important biological phenomena covering plant, microbial and animal sciences.


The investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Pioneer Awards enables the pursuit of unique ideas that challenge current thinking and paradigms or open up entirely novel areas of exploration altogether.


Professor Andre Pires da Silva, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, said: “Funding opportunities for curiosity-driven studies have led to several important discoveries with practical applications. This includes the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, which is now widely used in biomedical research for amplifying DNA. The BBSRC is giving us a tremendous chance to explore a unique way of genome regulation, which may also help in building new tools to help areas such as medicine and agriculture.”


Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, added: “Understanding the fundamental rules of life, such as the principles governing genetics, evolution and biological processes, is essential for advancing scientific knowledge. It is also imperative to societal progress.


“Many of the challenges faced by today's society, such as global food security, environmental sustainability and healthcare, are deeply rooted in biological processes.


“BBSRC is committed to understanding the rules of life and by investing in cutting-edge discovery research through schemes such as the Pioneer Awards pilot, we are expanding the horizons of human knowledge while helping to unlock innovative bio-based solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges.”


Notes to Editors


About the Pioneer Awards

BBSRC’s pilot pioneer awards scheme aimed to support original and potentially transformative research at an early stage of development. The scheme was designed to stimulate creativity within the bioscience research community by providing funding that encourages a ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research culture. The funded projects represent either a significant departure from existing lines of investigation within the research field or an entirely new line of inquiry.

Focused on BBSRC’s understanding the rules of life theme, the projects open up new research directions relevant to fundamental bioscience questions and have the potential to substantially shift current and future thinking about key topics.


The projects:


  • are original and visionary, challenging current thinking and paradigms
  • focus on exploring and revealing novel insights and theories relating to our fundamental understanding of biological systems
  • are early stage and untested, lacking preliminary data and perhaps involving creative or unconventional approaches to the research challenge
  • may involve a high level of uncertainty or require a range of exploratory investigations, such that while there are clear aims to explore, the outcomes are neither predictable nor guaranteed
  • involve any combination of experimental, analytical and theoretical work, potentially crossing disciplinary boundaries, including non-bioscience fields


A review of the pilot call is underway. 


BBSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. 


Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.





Media contact

University of Warwick press office contact:

Annie Slinn 07876876934

Communications Officer | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick Email:

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