Animal Development Group

Lab head: Maria Byrne
Location: Anderson Stuart Building, Camperdown Campus

Research in the Byrne Laboratory involves the use of closely related species of echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins) with divergent ontogenies as a model system to investigate developmental processes in evolution. The close taxonomic relationship allows for direct comparison of gene expression and the fate of homologous cells and structures in the embryos of species with different modes of development. With establishment of a robust phylogeny and molecular clock for the suite of species being investigated, the patterns of evolutionary change in development can be determined and mapped on an evolutionary time scale.

Recent research has focussed on the expression of homeodomain containing genes in sea star and sea urchin development. Emphasis has been placed on the role of homeobox genes on neurogenesis and establishment of body plan, processes that are intimately related. Development of the nervous system is being documented through the use of neural markers.

Understanding the evolutionary origins and development of animal body plans are fundamental problems in biology and the pentaradiate echinoderms, derived from a bilateral chordate ancestor, are particularly challenging, owing their bilateral-to-radial transformation. Ultimately this research will be used to identify echinoderm-chordate homologies. In recent years research on the biology of tropical echinoderms has expanded in collaboration with Australian and international development agencies.

Research in the field of environmental toxicology involved use of bioindicator species to monitor the health of aquatic systems.

Lab members: M Byrne (head)

Gene expression during development of the sea urchin nervous system

Primary supervisor: Maria Byrne

Sea urchins are being developed as a leading model for understanding the genetic networks that regulate development. Our lab uses Australian sea urchin species to investigate how changes to development have led to the evolution of the unique “five-rayed” organization or the sea urchin body. This will allow us to establish which parts of the genetic blueprint for development have been conserved between sea urchins and vertebrates, and will provide insights into the vertebrate ancestor. Our current ARC funding has allowed us to establish the developmental transcriptome of two local sea urchins, which we are using to investigate the genes involved in axial patterning and development of the nervous system in the juvenile sea urchin.

This project will use the transcriptome to identify and characterise the genes involved in the induction and patterning of the juvenile nervous system. This will involve expression analysis using in situ hybridization and confocal microscopy to map gene expression domains during development. The role of key signaling pathways in neurogenesis will be determined by analyzing the effects of pharmacological treatments on neurogenesis of sea urchin embryos.


Discipline: Anatomy & Histology
Contact: Email Maria Byrne