More than just taxon-specific oddities, novel cell types can promote niche specialization and facilitate speciation events. This project leverages the incredible functional diversity of cnidocytes (cnidarian stinging cells) to characterize the factors that limit the evolution of cellular innovation.
Evolutionary loss is an important driver of animal biodiversity. Using comparative embryology in two distantly related ctenophores (comb jellies) we seek understand the mechanisms driving trait loss by examining the fate of genes released from their role in patterning lost structures.
New genes arise constantly through duplication and divergence but the proportion of these novel genes that become integrated into signaling networks may be very small. Why are some gene families more likely to be retained after duplication? Rapid functional diversification seems to be the key...
Unlike other cell types, stem cells maintain the ability to generate new daughter cells indefinitely. This is very special...unless you're a cnidarian. This study takes advantage of the perpetual regeneration of cnidocytes to redefine animal stem cell identity.
Key innovations in subcellular structure, including the development of a specialized secretory vesicle, increased the evolvability of cells and provided new opportunities for cellular diversification in early multicellular life. We study the origin of the secretory vesicle to understand the evolution of cell identity.
Tube anemones are the only cnidarians to possess ptychocytes (tick-o-cytes), a specialized type of cnidocyte that lacks a harpoon and is devoid of venom. What do tube anemones do with a stinging cell that doesn't sting? They use it to construct their tube! We aim to find out what makes tube anemones tick (ptych?).
As part of an ongoing collaboration with the Lyons Lab (Scripps/UCSD), we are investigating the factors that allow aeolid nudibranchs to sequester cnidocytes from their cnidarian prey and use them in their own defense. (Fun fact: kleptocnidy has evolved in at least four phyla!)