Alison received her undergraduate degree in London (Biological Sciences, first class, 1991) and her PhD in Oxford (1995). Following a Medical Research Council fellowship In Cambridge (JRF, Clare Hall), Alison returned to Oxford in 2000 to take up her fellowship at Hertford College and a University Lecturership in the Biochemistry Department.
Alison lectures widely on the Biochemistry course and acts as first year course coordinator in Molecular Cell Biology. She teaches undergraduate tutorials in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Molecular and Classical Genetics and Developmental Biology.
Alison supervises several research students directly within her research group. She also acts as graduate advisor to a cohort of Life Sciences graduate students at Hertford.
Alison’s research focuses on developmental genetics in the nematode model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. The overall aim is to understand how gene networks encode developmental programmes, and in doing this, she seeks to integrate molecular mechanisms into a whole organism level of understanding. One major interest at present is the regulation of cell number during development. The transition from cell proliferation to differentiation is a key regulatory step in the development and subsequent maintenance of an organism’s tissues and organs, and is of course at the heart of disease processes such as cancer. At present, the mechanisms controlling the balance between proliferation and differentiation of cells are poorly understood and the aim is to use C. elegans as a powerful model organism in which to gain a molecular understanding of how this balance is achieved during normal development. Stem cells have the ability to both self-renew as well as give rise to differentiating daughters that can sometimes generate (or even re-generate) a particular tissue over the lifetime of an organism. Stem cells therefore need to constantly juggle the conflicting demands of proliferation and differentiation in order for a multicellular organism to develop and operate properly. Alison’s research group use genetic, genomic, cell biologicaland biochemical techniques to probe the molecular basis of such cellular decision-making. Increasing our understanding in this crucial area of biology is a vital pre-requisite to the development of novel therapeutic interventions.
Other areas of research interest include studies of biological ageing, again using C.elegans as the model organism of choice. In collaboration with a colleague from the Biochemistry Department (Dr.Lynne Cox), she is analysing molecular mechanisms of ageing in the premature ageing Werner Syndrome, by studying the mode of action of a C. elegans homologue (counterpart) of human WRN protein.
Alison attracts major grant funding from UK Research Councils, Cancer charities and the Wellcome Trust and has several international collaborations. Current projects are funded by the Biological and Biotechnological Research Council (BBSRC), Cancer Research UK, the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) and Research into Ageing (Age UK), supporting a research group consisting of Postdoctoral Research Associates, Research Assistants, PhD students and undergraduate project students.
Simone Promel et al. The GPS motif is a molecular switch for bimodal signaling of the Adhesion-class G protein-coupled receptor LAT-1/Latrophiin. Cell Reports, in press
Charles Brabin and Alison Woollard. Finding a niche for seam cells? Worm, 1:2, 2012, epub ahead of print
Charles Brabin, Peter J. Appleford and Alison Woollard. The Caenorhabditis elegans GATA factor ELT-1 work through the cell proliferation regulator BRO-1 and the fusogen EFF-1 to maintain the seam stem-like fate. PLoS Genetics 7, e1002200, 2011
G. Jafari, P.J. Appleford, J. Seago, R. Pocock and A. Woollard. The UNC-4 homeobox protein represses mab-9 expression in DA motor neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans. Mech. Dev. 118, 49-58, 2011
Peter J Appleford and Alison Woollard. RUNX genes find a niche in stem cell biology. J Cell. Biochem. 108, 14-21, 2009
Toby Braun and Alison Woollard. RUNX factors in development: Lessons from invertebrate model systems. Blood Cells, Molecules and Diseases. 43, 43-48, 2009
Peter J Appleford, Maria Gravato-Nobre, Toby Braun and Alison Woollard. Identification of cis-regulatory elements from the C. elegans T-box gene mab-9 reveals a role for mab-9 in hypodermal function. Dev. Biol. 317, 695-704, 2008
Roger Pocock, Marina Mione, Sagair Hussein, Sara Maxwell, Marco Pontecorvi, Sobia Aslam, Dianne Gerrelli, Jane C. Sowden and Alison Woollard. Neuronal function of Tbx20 conserved from nematodes to vertebrates. Dev. Biol. 317, 671-85, 2008
Rachael Nimmo and Alison Woollard. Worming out the biology of Runx. Dev. Biol. 313, 492-500, 2008
Kagoshima, H, Nimmo, R, Saad, N, Tanaka, J, Miwa, Y, Mitani, S, Kohara, Y & Woollard, A. The C. elegans CBFb homologue BRO-1 interacts with the Runx factor, RNT-1, to promote stem cell proliferation and self-renewal. Development, 134, 3905-15, 2007
Sinchita Roy Chowdhuri, Tanya Crum, Alison Woollard, Sobia Aslam, and Peter G. Okkema. The T-box factor TBX-2 and the SUMO-conjugating enzyme UBC-9 are required for ABa-derived pharyngeal muscle in C. elegans. Dev. Biol. 295, 664-677, 2006
Rachael Nimmo, Adam Antebi and Alison Woollard. mab-2 encodes RNT-1, a C. elegans Runx homologue essential for controlling cell proliferation in a stem cell-like developmental lineage. Development, 132, 5043-5054, 2005
Roger Pocock, Julie Ahringer, Michael Mitsch, Sara Maxwell and Alison Woollard. A regulatory network of T-box genes and the even-skipped homologue vab-7 controls patterning and morphogenesis in C. elegans. Development, 131, 2373-2385, 2004
Sarah Newbury and Alison Woollard. The 5′-3′ exoribonuclease xrn-1 is essential for ventral epithelial enclosure during C. elegans embryogenesis. RNA, 10, 59-65, 2004
Rachael Nimmo and Alison Woollard. Widespread organisation of C. elegans genes into operons: fact or function? Bioessays, 24, 983-987, 2002
Alison Woollard and Jonathan Hodgkin. The Caenorhabditis elegans fate-determining gene mab-9 encodes a T-box protein required to pattern the posterior hindgut. Genes Dev., 14, 596-603, 2000
Alison Woollard. Gene duplications and genetic redundancy in C. elegans. WormBook, ed. The C. elegansResearch Community, WormBook, doi/10.1895/wormbook.1.2.1, http://www.wormbook.org. 2005
Peter J Appleford and Alison Woollard. Delivery of RNAi reagents in C. elegans by microinjection. In “Gene Silencing by RNA Interference” Ed. M Sohail, pp 183-200, CRC Press , 2004