Our lab studies how early animal development evolves and contributes to phenotypic change. We apply genomic, epigenetic, and more classic developmental approaches to study the natural diversity in early embryogenesis found in spiral cleaving annelids.
Axis specification in conditional spiral cleaving annelids
Spiral cleavage is an early mode of development found in at least seven invertebrate animal groups, including annelids, molluscs, flatworms, and nemerteans. It is presumably the ancestral defining character to Spiralia, one of the three major groups of animals with bilateral symmetry.
During spiral cleavage, the axial information and cellular fates that define the animal body plan emerge either conditionally – through cell-cell interactions – or autonomously – through maternal factors. In annelids, most studies have focused on autonomous cleaving species, limiting our understanding of how these two modes of development evolved. We are combining live microscopy, transcriptomics, gene expression analyses, and functional approaches to disentangle the mechanisms of axis specification and cell fate commitment in conditional cleaving annelids.
EPIGENETICS OF SPIRAL CLEAVAGE
Conditional and autonomous spiral cleaving embryos differ in the timing and mode of specification of their progenitor cells. Epigenetic changes ultimately control cell fate acquisition, but our understanding of this process is still very limited in spiralians. We are characterising the genome-wide dynamics of cis-regulation during annelid development to dissect the control and evolution of conditional and autonomous spiral cleavage.
Annelids are one of the most diverse animal groups on Earth, with over 16,000 described species. They display a huge diversity of adult morphologies and life styles, and have colonised marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. Yet how this biodiversity is encoded at the genomic level is still largely unexplored. We are filling this gap of knowledge by sequencing the genome of annelid species that can help us understand the morphological and ecological evolution of this animal group.