Associate Professor Steffen Scholpp

Associate Professor Steffen Scholpp

Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Living Systems Institute

‘I am very excited to join the LSI in Exeter as it will create a vibrant working environment and an exciting atmosphere.’


I undertook my PhD in Developmental Neurobiology at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, and at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Since then I have accumulated considerable experience in methods for the visualisation of morphogen spreading and endocytosis detection in vertebrates using state-of-the-art microscopy and spectroscopy. As a postdoc, I studied Shh morphogen function during diencephalon development in zebrafish and chick, at the MRC Centre of Developmental Neurobiology, King’s College London. In 2009, I moved to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) as a DFG-funded Emmy-Noether Fellow to investigate the mechanisms of signalling in early forebrain development. My lab has specialised on in vivo labelling and time-lapse imaging of morphogen transport and we have built a reputation for using challenging and innovative techniques to track single molecules in the zebrafish system.

Highlights of my career to date:

Tissue development is a key process for life starting from the earliest embryonic stages during which cells differentiate into later organs composing an entire body. An essential component for these developmental processes but also for tissue regeneration and stem cell regulation is the communication of cells by chemical signalling. The highly conserved family of Wnt proteins represents important regulators of cell behaviour, tissue development and homeostasis by inducing responses in a concentration dependent manner. My lab characterised a novel way of spreading Wnt proteins in vertebrates: Wnt molecules are mobilized on specific cell protrusions so-called cytonemes. These specialized signalling filopodia transmit signal proteins between communicating cells and allow a high degree of control of propagation speed, direction and concentration of the transmitted ligand. The signalling molecules are delivered directly to the receiving cells by a direct-contact model and parameters such as cytoneme length or speed of filopodia formation dictate local Wnt concentration. This model has become widely accepted and has been published in the text book of "Developmental Biology" by Scott Gilbert in 2016.

What excites me most about joining the LSI?

The LSI has offered me excellent conditions to continue my interdisciplinary research programme focusing on the understanding of cell signalling processes in vertebrates. We will ask systems biology questions like, how do cells form tissues and how do tissues form an organ? I consider my recruitment as a great opportunity to strengthen the field of cell and developmental biology at the University of Exeter.

The research work I will be undertaking in the LSI:

Within the LSI, we will be collaborating with biophysicists using super-resolution microscopy to describe these signalling processes in a quantitative way on a molecular level. As it is very difficult to determine the specific impact of individual parameters in a complex biological system by a purely experimental approach, we will interact with mathematicians using computational modelling. Together, we aim to develop a robust mathematical model for the distribution of signal molecules on the basis of signalling filopodia. Due to the conserved nature of vertebrate cell behaviour our results will be relevant to Wnt signalling during human embryonic development and could suggest novel vulnerabilities to Wnt-dependent diseases.

Something about me that you can’t google!

I like sailing. I learnt to sail dinghies, keelboats and yachts on the Baltic Sea when I was in school. One may think that sailing a boat is relatively easy, however it is actually a very challenging task. It is therefore all the more satisfying when you can do it. Sailing - regardless of the size of the craft - requires teamwork, expertise and skill to safely sail a craft smoothly through the water. You face unforeseen situations and you start to identify and solve them as a team. So you have to be clear on who does what, what happens next, and how circumstances intertwine. One has to clearly communicate ideas, so that everyone is aware of their specific role on board. Once you have put the plan into action you have to stay on top of things and continuously re-adjust as the weather and sea behaviour can change quickly. Acting in a hectic manner is not a good thing and one has to stay calm and even-tempered. Following these rules you smoothly sail your team to safe harbour. Those challenges make sailing a fascinating and rewarding sport to me.

Gegen den Wind zu kreuzen bringt einen manchmal schneller zum Ziel als mit dem Wind zu segeln. (H. Lahm)