Edinburgh Research Explorer

Prof Helen Sang

Personal Chair of Vertebrate Molecular Development

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Phone: +44 (0)131 651 9171

Education/Academic qualification

1975Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Cambridge
Studies of genetic recombination in Sordaria brevicollis
1972Bachelor of Science, University of Cambridge

Current Research Interests

Applications of transgenesis in the chick, particularly in study of the development of the chick embryo and resistance to disease.

Research Interests

Our interests are in the development of transgenic technologies for genetic modification of the chicken and the applications of these technologies. We have developed an efficient method for production of transgenic chickens using lentiviral vectors (McGrew et al. 2004) and have used it for a range of applications, from basic biology to biotechnology. The chick is an excellent model for the study of vertebrate development and we have generated transgenic lines that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) and membrane-localised GFP at high levels in all cells of the developing embryo (McGrew et al. 2008; Rozbiki et al., 2015). These embryos can be used for in vivo imaging and in grafting experiments for lineage analysis during embryogenesis, for example Zhao et al. 2010, Pearson et al. 2011. We are extending this approach by developing additional fluorescent reporter lines and by using transgenesis to study specific aspects of development, using lineage-restricted promoters e.g. development of the MacReporter lines, Balic et al., 2012. There are many other potential applications of transgenesis in the chicken, particularly in biotechnology and conferring beneficial traits in production chickens. We have shown that therapeutic proteins can be synthesised as a component of egg white, using transgenes derived from regulatory sequences of the ovalbumin gene (the major egg white protein gene) and human βinterferon (Lillico et al., 2007) and continue to develop this approach. The potential for genetic modification to be used to confer resistance to avian influenza was shown in a collaboration with Dr. Laurence Tiley (Cambridge University, Lyall et al. 2011). The advent of genome editing technologies that allow us to make small genetic changes and introduce transgenes by homologous recombination will enable us to build on these approaches for a wide range of applications.


My research in a nutshell

Part of Helen's research aims to produce chickens that cannot spread bird flu. She does this by making new biological instructions that tell the chicken's body to make a defence mechanism against the virus that causes bird flu.

There is some more information about this work at this link:

or you can hear Helen talking about her research: http://bit.ly/2pwvnnx   and


Administrative Roles

BBSRC Council member 2015-2018

BBSRC Agriculture and Food Security Strategy Advisory Panel 2015-

Global Challenges Research Fund Strategy Advisory Group

Chair, Career Development Committee


Professor Sang received a degree in Natural Sciences, specialising in Genetics, from the University of Cambridge. She followed this with a PhD, also at Cambridge, studying the mechanism of genetic recombination with Dr. H.L.K. Whitehouse. Professor Sang was then awarded a SERC-NATO fellowship to investigate the mechanisms of mismatch repair in E. coli at Harvard University with Prof. M. Meselson.

She returned to the UK on an MRC Training Fellowship and joined David Finnegan’s lab at the University of Edinburgh’s department of Molecular Biology, where she was involved in identifying the transposon responsible for IR hybrid dysgenesis in Drosophila. Professor Sang was then appointed as a Principal Investigator at the AFRC Poultry Research Centre, now the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh. Professor Helen Sang was appointed Personal Chair in Vertebrate Molecular Development in 2009. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology.



Research activities & awards

  1. Equality Challenge Unit (External organisation)

    Activity: Membership typesMembership of public/government advisory/policy group or panel

  2. Come dine with the future

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Public lecture/debate/seminar

  3. Croptech Conference

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Public lecture/debate/seminar

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