The Akam group, based in the Department of Zoology, work on Hox genes and the evolution of fundamental body plan architecture in arthropods. In particular work on the developmental genetics of segmentation in arthropods such as the centipede Strigamia have shed light on how the much better understood but very derived segmentation of the Drosophila embryo has arisen.
Glover, based in Plant Sciences, work on flower development and its adaptive role in signalling to plant pollinators. There is a particular interest in the role of cell shape and colour in adaptation to specific pollinator species.
Their main area of interest is the evolution and development of floral traits that are important in attracting animal pollinators. By understanding how plants build traits that attract particular animals the group aims to understand the diversification of the flowering plants.
The Glover group is particularly interested in petal characters such as colour, texture and insect-mimicking spots. They use a multidisciplinary approach integrating the use of molecular genetics, systematic and developmental techniques and incorporate this with our understanding of pollinator responses as studied in their bee behavioural facility in order to address questions of floral trait evolution.
Understanding plant-pollinator interactions in this integrated way provides us with tools to contribute to the design of strategies to protect biodiversity of plants and animals. This increased understanding of floral traits and pollinator attraction can allow for work towards optimization of pollinator attraction and contribute to food security.
Clare Baker’s lab, based in the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, works on the development and evolution of the vertebrate peripheral nervous system from neurogenic placodes and the neural crest, with a focus on sensory systems. Her lab uses embryos from a a wide range of species, including so far lamprey, shark, skate, paddlefish, sturgeon, catfish, zebrafish, axolotl, Xenopus, mouse and chick. One of the main current projects in her lab is the development and evolution of vertebrate lateral line electoreceptors.
The research in the Benito-Gutiérrez group focuses on understanding the evolutionary origins of complex vertebrate traits. Such complex traits include, for example, an elaborated ventricular brain, neural crest and placodal derivatives, and the development of craniofacial structures. Because of their absence outside the vertebrate subphylum, they are generally regarded as vertebrate innovations, thus closely linked to the invertebrate-vertebrate transition. The group’s main objective is to decipher the molecular changes that underlie the emergence of such morphological innovations, which likely facilitated the evolution and radiation of vertebrates on earth.
To do this, the group uses the pre-vertebrate amphioxus (cephalochordate) as a model system, since it is currently regarded as the best extant proxy to the ancestral chordate that gave rise to all vertebrates.
To address their questions, the group uses different approaches:
-Cephalochordate comparative omics: By using comparative genomics and transcriptomics on different amphioxus genera we aim to understand the phenotypic/genotypic diversity at the root of chordates.
-Conserved cell type fingerprinting: Using Next Generation Sequencing tools we employ biased and unbiased approaches to identify fundamental units of organs and tissues in situ. This is particularly useful to recognize homologous structures in evolutionarily distant phyla. This approach implies in addition the utilization of high-resolution imaging tools.
The Montgomery group is interested in how brains and behaviors evolve. They take a comparative approach, using inter-specific variation to investigate the developmental changes that shape brain size and structure. Previously, mammalian brain evolution has been a key focus but they are currently developing ecologically diverse groups of butterflies as a new study system for neuro-evo-devo. For example, they have previously demonstrated that Heliconius have one of largest mushroom bodies of any insect, 3-4 times larger than typical for Lepidoptera. The mushroom body is the most enigmatic structure of the insect brain, with multiple roles in sensory integration and memory. They are interested in understanding i) whether mushroom body expansion reflects novel connections with other brain regions, increased specialization of internal sub-units, or increased computational power inline with neuron number and ii) how mushroom body development has diverged across species, and how mushroom body size is regulated.