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Research Overview

Regulating two distinct body plans from a single genome – Life history evolution in hemichordates

Most marine invertebrates have a distinct larval body plan that only develops features of the adult body plan late in larval development, often months following embryogenesis. Enteropneust hemichordate worms have both direct and indirect-developing species, and we work on both types of development in the lab. We are currently investigating how cell composition varies between linked, but morphologically distinct, body plans.

Nervous System Evolution

Despite fundamental differences in neural organization, hemichordates and vertebrates share exquisite conservation of the gene regulatory networks involved in neural A/P patterning. Does this conservation reflect some cryptic neural patterning similarities in cell types along the A/P axis? We are investigating the basic organization of the nervous system using in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry,  transgenics and single cell sequencing to investigate the basic neural organization of hemichordates.   

Neural control of larval behavior

Marine larvae are a pervasive part of animal life cycles and play a critical role in the maintenance of global biodiversity. Yet, we know very little about where larvae go, how they get there, and why they choose to settle in specific locations. Many marine organisms spend weeks to months as larvae in the open ocean before they metamorphose into adults. During this time, many larvae develop a distinct transitory nervous system. We are interested in characterizing the morphology and function of these unique larval nervous systems to understand how they regulate ecologically relevant behavior.

Echinoderms – natural experiments in body plans

Echinoderms are one of the most intriguing of the metazoan phyla. As one of the four deuterostome phyla, they are the sister group to hemichordates and closely related to chordates. We try to understand how the evolution of the radial body plan came about.