Head of laboratory
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.