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)

Biology of fertilisation and early development of embryos

Primary supervisor: Maria Byrne

Research in the Animal Development lab involves comparison of game to genesis and development between closely related species that have contrasting patterns of embryogenesis. For this work we use several starfish and sea urchin species from which mature gametes are available at different times of the year. The main aim of our research is to determine the modifications in development exhibited by these animals and to elucidate the cellular mechanisms underlying these modifications. Documenting these phenomena is key to understanding the role that development change has played in evolutionary events such as the formation of new species. We also use these animals as a model to investigate the affects of environmental changes associated with climate change will have on marine invertebrates. Several Honours projects are available. To provide a few examples, these projects would involve research on the biology of fertilisation and early development of embryos cultured in the lab.

Discipline: Anatomy & Histology