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Azim Surani

2017 SuraniAzim Surani PhD CBE FRS FMedSci, Director of Germline and Epigenomics Research, Wellcome Senior Investigator, Member of the Physiology, Development and Neuroscience Department.

Contact by email | Europe PMC | Pubmed

2018 Canada Gairdner International Award



Human germ cell specification, programming and epigenetic inheritance

What makes a germline cell? We study primordial germ cells (PGCs), precursors to eggs and sperm, in the early embryo. We have established principles of early human development and the mechanisms of cell fate determination with a focus on human PGC specification. A unique epigenetic resetting follows in the germline after hPGC specification.

Our work shows that SOX17 is the key regulator of human, but not mouse, germ cell fate. By developing in vitro models, and with authentic hPGCs from human embryos, we have also established how pluripotent stem cells gain competence for germ cell and somatic fates in human.

These findings are important for studies on human pluripotent stem cells and regenerative medicine, which are applicable to advances in human development and disease. Whereas SOX17–BLIMP1 apparently initiate the epigenetic programme in early human germline, BLIMP1–PRDM14 play a similar role in mouse germline, resulting in the comprehensive erasure of DNA methylation (except for some resistant loci), X-reactivation and imprints erasure, followed by re-establishment of sperm- and oocyte-specific imprints. Defects in these gamete-specific imprints lead to a variety of human disease syndromes.

Selected publications:

• Murakami K et al. (2016) NANOG alone induces germ cells in primed epiblast in vitro by activation of enhancers. Nature 529: 403–407.

• Tang WWC et al. (2015) A Unique Gene Regulatory Network Resets the Human Germline Epigenome for Development. Cell 161(6): 1453–1467.

• Irie N, Weinberger L, Tang WWC, Kobayashi T, Viukov S, Manor Y, Dietmann S, Hanna JH, Surani MA  (2015) SOX17 is a critical specifier of human primordial germ cell fate. Cell 160, 253-268 

• Hackett JA, Sengupta R, Zylicz JJ, Murakami K, Lee C, Down TA and Surani MA (2012) Germline DNA demethylation dynamics and imprint erasure through 5-hydoxymethylcytosine. Science, 339, 448-452

• Tang F, Barbacioru C, Bao S, Lee C, Nordman E, Xiaohui W, Lao K, Surani MA (2010) Tracing the derivation of embryonic stem cells from the inner cell mass by single-cell RNA-seq analysis. Cell Stem Cell 6 (5-2) 468-478

Surani Group 2017

Video: Azim Surani and genomic imprinting


Joao Alves Lopes • Aracely Castillo • Elena Drousioti • Sally Fenn • Wolfram Gruhn • Mei Gu • Nadia Gueorguieva • Naoko Irie • Yong-Hee Kim • Sun Min Lee • Merrick Pierson Smela • Anastasiya Sybirna • Walfred Tang • Freddy Wong