Gene Regulation in Development and Evolution

Head of the Lab: Dr. Smadar Ben Tabou deLeon


Research

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GENERAL: From Cnidaria to humans, animals share similar sets of genes yet have radically different body plans; the difference lies in the organization of these genes in developmental gene regulatory networks (GRNs). We are addressing fundamental challenges in developmental, evolutionary and ecological studiesby studying the regulatory networks that drive the sea urchin embryo development. Current projects in the lab are:

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) pathway and sea urchin larval skeletogenesis as a model for human angiogenesis: During angiogenesis, a tumor secrets VEGF ligand to induces the growth of new blood vessels toward the tumor, enabling the tumor to grow and metastasize. In the sea urchin embryo that doesn’t have a blood vessel; VEGF is essential factor in skeletogenesis. In new experiments from our lab we showed that human VEGF is capable of generating ectopic skeleton in the sea urchin and that VEGF targets in the sea urchin are similar to those it activates during angiogenesis. We are now studying the molecular pathways activated by VEGF during sea urchin skeletogenesis to provide better understanding of this pathway and open the way to new therapeutic approaches. This research involves advanced quantitative methods of molecular biology and imaging.

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) pathway and sea urchin larval skeletogenesis as a model for human angiogenesis

 

Comparative studies of transcriptional programs between echinoderm species: The differences between the developmental transcriptional programs of different organisms underlie their different morphologies. We are studying the relation between the expression patterns of different echinoderm species and their different morphologies, to understand the evolutionary changes that underlie the emergence of new species.

Comparative studies of transcriptional programs between echinoderm species

 

The effect of pollution and global warming on gene regulation and development of the sea urchin embryo

Deciphering the molecular mechanisms that help developmental gene regulatory networks evade major threats, such as polution and global warming is critical to the maintainence of biodiversity. Here we use the sea urchin embryo as a model system to study the response of basic developmental regulatory mechanisms to environmental changes. We discovered that embryo development is substantially delayed in the coastal sea water that are polluted and highly salinated. We now study the specific molecular mechanisms affected by these conditions in order to understand the risks to coastal biosystems.

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