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Understanding the evolution of animal biodiversity is one of the major goals in biology. How animals explored new habitats from only being confined to the marine environment and how the body plans diversified is still one of the most tremendous questions to be answered. My group studies a broad range of animal taxa using morphological and molecular tools to unravel the evolution and development of animal organ systems and the evolution of novel cell types. In the “post-genomic age” with its novel and advanced molecular tools we are able to study the connection between the genotype and the phenotype and how the interaction of genes and cells lead to the formation of a fertile adult. The “translation” of the genomic information into a living individual is realised during the process of development. Studying the development of an organism in which a single fertilised cell gives rise to a complex animal is not only fascinating, but is also one of the key processes to study to finally understand the evolution of animal diversity. Furthermore we study how developmental stages adapt to their environment.
I investigate the genomic, molecular and cellular foundations of the development of diverse animal groups such as priapulids, acoels, bryozoans, brachiopods, nematomorphs, platyhelminthes, rotifers and nemerteans using the comparative evolutionary approach. My research team combines wet-lab approaches and bioinformatics to a unique ‘hybrid’ approach to gain information from a broad range of animal taxa using species that can be kept in the laboratory and some that are collected from the aquatic environment. My approach using broad taxon sampling instead of being limited to a model system adds to my unique profile and to my visibility in the field.
I use advanced microscopical methods such as live 3D-timelapse microscopy (4D-microscopy) and light-sheet microscopy to study developmental processes in detail. I combine this approach with comparative genomics (de novo genome sequencing) and single-cell transcriptomics (CEL-seq) to identify evolutionary changes in the genes, their regulatory regions and their expression. We follow up on the discoveries with experimentally testing the role of genes with genome editing technologies (CRISPr-Cas9) in the organism. The molecular approaches allow to unravel the genetic framework underlying the formation of cell type diversity and different organ systems, such as the CNS, the alimentary canal and other mesodermal organs and finally the diversification of animals. Because taxon sampling is essential to understand evolution we implement these technologies into previously not investigated but highly informative species. Furthermore, we use the sequencing information to resolve important evolutionary relationships in the animal tree of life. Albeit 20 years of successful research has led to the higher resolution in animal relationships, several nodes have not yet been resolved. I use comparative genomics, e.g. to identify syntenies and rare genomic changes to contribute to solve the last mysteries of the placement of several animal taxa (position of Ctenophora, and Xenacoelomorpha, internal branching of Trochozoa).
- 2017. Increased taxon sampling reveals thousands of hidden orthologs in flatworms. Genome Research. 27: 1263-1272. doi: 10.1101/gr.216226.116
- 2017. Clustered brachiopod Hox genes are not expressed collinearly and are associated with lophotrochozoan novelties. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114: E1913-E1922. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1614501114
- 2017. An ancient FMRFamide-related peptide-receptor pair induces defence behaviour in a brachiopod larva. Open Biology. 7. doi: 10.1098/rsob.170136
- 2017. Cleavage modification did not alter blastomere fates during bryozoan evolution. BMC Biology. 15. doi: 10.1186/s12915-017-0371-9
- 2016. Xenacoelomorpha is the sister group to Nephrozoa. Nature. 530: 89-93. doi: 10.1038/nature16520
- 2016. Xenacoelomorpha's significance for understanding bilaterian evolution. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development. 39: 48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2016.05.019
- 2016. Molecular regionalization in the compact brain of the meiofaunal annelid Dinophilus gyrociliatus (Dinophilidae). EVODEVO. 7:20: 1-21. doi: 10.1186/s13227-016-0058-2
- 2016. Embryonic chirality and the evolution of spiralian left - Right asymmetries. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences. 371. 10 pages. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0411
- 2016. The larval nervous system of the penis worm Priapulus caudatus (Ecdysozoa). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences. 371. 10 pages. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0050
- 2016. Expression of segment polarity genes in brachiopods supports a non-segmental ancestral role of engrailed for bilaterians. Scientific Reports. 6:32387: 1-15. doi: 10.1038/srep32387
- 2015. Genomics going wild: Marine sampling for studies of evolution and development. Marine Genomics. 24: 119-120. doi: 10.1016/j.margen.2015.11.003
- 2015. Embracing the comparative approach: How robust phylogenies and broader developmental sampling impacts the understanding of nervous system evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences. 370. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0045
- 2015. Getting to the bottom of anal evolution. Zoologischer Anzeiger. 256: 61-74. doi: 10.1016/j.jcz.2015.02.006
- 2015. Neural nets. Current Biology. 25: R782-R786. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.001
- 2015. Spiralian phylogeny informs the evolution of microscopic lineages. Current Biology. 25: 2000-2006. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.068
- 2015. Nuclear genomic signals of the “microturbellarian” roots of platyhelminth evolutionary innovation. eLIFE. 2015:e05503. 49 pages. doi: 10.7554/eLife.05503
- 2015. The study of Priapulus caudatus reveals conserved molecular patterning underlying different gut morphogenesis in the Ecdysozoa. BMC Biology. 13:29. doi: 10.1186/s12915-015-0139-z
- 2015. Evolution and development of the adelphophagic, intracapsular Schmidt's larva of the nemertean Lineus ruber. EVODEVO. 6:28. doi: 10.1186/s13227-015-0023-5
- 2015. Mesodermal gene expression during the embryonic and larval development of the articulate brachiopod Terebratalia transversa. EVODEVO. 6. doi: 10.1186/s13227-015-0004-8
- 2014. Development and juvenile anatomy of the nemertodermatid Meara stichopi (Bock) Westblad 1949 (Acoelomorpha). Frontiers in Zoology. 11:50. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-11-50
Andreas Hejnol is research group leader at the Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology in Bergen, Norway. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Comparative Zoology from the Free University Berlin, Germany in 2002 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Ralf Schnabel in Braunschweig and at the Kewalo Marine Laboratory in the lab of Mark Q. Martindale in Hawaii. He started his research group “Comparative Developmental Biology” at the Sars Centre in 2009. His current research interest on descriptive, experimental molecular developmental biology of a broad range of invertebrates and includes comparative genomic approaches and phylogenomics. The main research goal is to understand the evolutionary origin and diversification of animal body plans.
Developmental Diversity And The Evolution of Animal Organ Systems
Horizon 2020 Grants:
ERC Consolidator Grant Horizon 2020 “EVOMESODERM” http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/197107_en.html
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network H2020, “IGNITE” http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/211660_en.html
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network H2020, “EvoCELL” http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/211907_en.html