Gene Regulation in Development and Evolution

Head of the Lab: Dr. Smadar Ben Tabou deLeon


 Lab overview

IMG 20200402 WA0013We aim to decipher how the genomic program for development is encoded in the DNA, how it is executed during development and what enables it to resist genetic and environmental changes. We study sea urchin and other echinoderm species that have major experimental advantages that enable us to investigate the regulation of developmental process starting from fertilization. Our research has strong implications to the understanding of cell fate specification and differentiation as well as dedifferentiation processes that occur during genetic diseases, like cancer.

evolution from urchin to man color

Major projects in the lab where we are currently recruiting students are:

  • pnas 116 25 cover pageVascular 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 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.

  • 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.

compartive trans

Fresh from our lab




Join us

We are recruiting M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. If you are interested please send your CV and research interests to:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For further review of our current research projects please see Research below.
For a review of the major results of our previous work, please see Publication.

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