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Personal profile


Boni Anatole Afouda, 52, 01 January 1968

Born and grew up in Benin and British since October 2006

My data has been prominently cited in a book entitled ‘’The Regulatory Genome- Gene Regulatory Networks In Development and Evolution-’’ from Eric H Davidson published in May 2006 by Elsevier (http://www.elsevier.com). My data and a figure of mine have also been used in this book.



Research Profile

I am interested in the process of how the heart is formed during vertebrate embryogenesis. In particular, my main focus is on the formation of heart muscle cells (cardiomyocyte) during early cardiogenesis. Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the first year of life and recent discoveries have identified GATA family of transcription factors and Wnt signalling molecules as key conserved regulators involved in early cardiogenesis. Of the six vertebrate members of the GATA factors three (GATA4, 5 and 6) are expressed in the heart in partially overlapping patterns to carry out partially redundant functions. The importance of these factors in heart formation has been highlighted in recent studies. Mutations in the Gata4 gene cause human congenital cardiomyopathies, including valve and septal defects and loss of both Gata4 and Gata6 in mice leads to acardia, suggesting that genetic interactions between these factors are essential for the onset and/or maintenance of cardiogenesis. In addition it has been shown that lack of Gata5 in mice leads to bicuspid aortic valve formation.  The importance of these factors during heart formation is further demonstarted in studies that shown that compound Gata4/Gata5 and Gata5/Gata6 mutants die embryonically or perinatally due to severe CHD.

I use the frog Xenopus as model organism to examine the fundamental question about what functional roles individual GATA factors play during cardiogenesis. Because these factors function in other embryonic tissues I have established a powerful and reliable experimental cardiogenic assay with Xenopus explants, which allows investigating the role of these factors during early heart formation without interfering with other developmental processes.

I have uncovered functionally distinct roles for the different GATA factors which differ in dependency on Wnt signalling pathways: in constrast to GATA4 and 6 (which regulate both early and late cardiogenesis), GATA5 function (which is only required at later stages) is not mediated by the so called non-canonical Wnt pathway. These findings agree with the mouse data in that there is some redundancy but also in that GATA4 is one of the major player at the top of hierarchy of the cardiac transcriptional network.

To investigate the gene regulatory network that underlies the specific functions of different GATA factors I have taken advantage of advanced sequencing technology to perform genome-wide analysis of the gene regulatory network regulated by speicific GATA factors during heart formation in Xenopus. Since the fundamental mechanims involved in heart formation are conserved, I have validated my data in mammalian system using mouse Embryonic Stem (mES) cell. Validation in the mammalian system of data obtained from Xenopus model enhanced our understanding of molecular mechanisms that are involved in vertebrate heart development. Current investigations combine Xenopus and human Embyonic Stem Cell (hESC) models to further our understanding on how Wnt signalling controls genome-wide gene expression during critical stages of cardiomyocyte differentiation. Validation of functions of identified key Wnt-target genes (among which GATA factors should be) will be performed using CRISP/R-mediated genome editing method.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Biological Sciences, PhD, Biology, University of Geneva

… → 2001

Biological Sciences, Diploma, Biology, University of Geneva

… → 1996

Biological Sciences, Bachelors Degree, Biology, University of Geneva

… → 1994

Biological Sciences, Diploma, Benin National University

… → 1990

External positions

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Feb 2011Nov 2013

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen

Mar 2004Jan 2011

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Nottingham

Nov 2000Feb 2004

PhD student, Faculty of Sciences, University of Geneva



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