Andreas creates new insight into embryonic development

10 January 2022
Huge data files, small embryos and long days in front of the computer is everyday life for PhD student Andreas Fønss Møller. He holds a Master’s degree in Omics, and in 2020 he started his PhD project, in which he deals with embryonic development. He studies the process where a single fertilized cell undergoes several rounds of cell cycles within a short duration of time to form a multicellular structure comprising about 100 developmentally similar cells.

‘When the embryonic development goes wrong it has the potential to cause major developmental disorders and diseases. The more we know about the development the more likely it is that we can find ways to prevent or cure it. Increasingly researchers within my research area focus on how we can look upon the individual patient to give the best individual treatment for e.g. breast cancer, where cell division takes place uncontrolled. To do so, the understanding of the regulation of individual cell types is key,’ says Andreas Fønss Møller.

Existing genomics data leads to new knowledge
He does not investigate the perspectives but concentrates on fundamental mechanisms of embryonic development and models data to obtain knowledge about the development process. Most of the time he works with data generated by cooperating partners in their laboratories or already published data.

‘We look into existing data and make new findings, because we are able to merge large datasets from different sources, and we are able to look at datasets in new ways,’ says Andreas Fønss Møller.

He has experience with the data modelling back from his Master’s degree, where he worked with the same type of data. The special thing about the technique is that it is possible to look at each individual cell and not an average of all cells in a sample. If a cell type only represents a very small part of the total sample, there is a risk that it will be neglected in the big picture using conventional methods.

The technique to study single cells has boomed in the recent years, and by applying machine learning and statistical modelling, researchers aim to make fundamental predictions on the driving forces of embryonic development and the regulatory circuitry that governs cellular identity and fate.

A unique position as PhD student
Andreas Fønss Møller appreciates his time as a PhD student, and he sees it as potentially his last chance to scrutinize the exact research area he finds most interesting.

‘It is quite unique that you have the chance to direct your research area relatively independently. As long as you can get funding and argue why it is important. I imagine it is very different if you land a job as a researcher in the industry,’ he says.

Andreas Fønss Møller coorperates with his Danish supervisor, Assistant Professor Kedar Natarajan from the University of Southern Denmark and his Chinese supervisor from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He expects to finish his PhD project in 2023.