Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research Cambridge, MA
Many animal species are able to regenerate missing body parts or even entire body plans. I am using molecular and genomic tools to study regeneration and learn whether regeneration mechanisms in various species were inherited from their common ancestor or if they have evolved independently. Discovering conserved mechanisms might reveal previously unknown but potentially critical aspects of regeneration in animals.
During college, I studied development, regeneration, and asexual reproduction in segmented worms. My graduate work focused on the genomes of early animal lineages such as sea anemones and sponges to learn about early animal evolution. Such comparative genomic analyses have allowed us to infer changes in gene content, gene structure, and genomic organization that accompanied the appearance of animals and their subsequent radiation into phyletic lineages. However, we don’t yet understand the functions of the genomic innovations unique to animals. I am now studying the evolution of a particular biological process, focusing on how the functions of a few genes have evolved. For this research, I have returned to my interest in regeneration which, with the help of modern genetic tools, can be studied at molecular and cell biological levels in many species.