Research Groups

Dr. Grigory Genikhovich

Division Molecular Evolution and Development

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I am interested in understanding how molecular mechanisms regulating animal body axes evolved. To find this out, I am using an excellent experimental model, the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. It belongs to Cnidaria, a phylum consisting of morphologically simply organized diploblastic organisms, which occupies a crucial phylogenetic position as a sister group to all Bilateria (triploblastic animals with anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral body axes).  Intriguingly, true bilaterality exists also outside Bilateria, and Nematostella is one of such non-bilaterian bilaterally symmetric animals. We and others have shown that, similar to Bilateria, the patterning of Nematostella body axes is regulated by gradients of Wnt/b-catenin and BMP signaling. I am trying to decode the gene regulatory networks regulating axial patterning in Nematostella and compare the way a cnidarian patterns its body axes with the way bilaterians pattern theirs. This will shed light on the evolution axial patterning at the base of eumetazoan life and help us understand whether bilaterality has evolved once or more than once. Read more...

 

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Prof. Thomas Hummel

Head of Department

Division Neurobiology

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All animals rely on selective information from the external world received by highly specialized sensory neurons. Research at the Department of Neurobiology is dedicated to the understanding of the Sensory System development and function using various arthropod model organisms.

In a molecular-genetic approach we are studying the developmental control mechanisms underlying the formation of the Drosophila visual and olfactory system 

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Prof. Oleg Simakov

Division Molecular Evolution and Development

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We study major transitions in metazoan evolution from the perspective of the underlying genomic changes. Over the past years, we have contributed to the broader sampling of metazoan genomes, revealing ancestral metazoan and bilaterian genomic architectures and their diversification patterns. While we can trace back many gene families to the ancient metazoan ancestor, we also find many of them linked at both micro- (local gene cluster) and macro-syntenic (chromosomal) levels. The functional significance of most of those linkages during development is unknown. Having a broad phylogenetic focus we aim to (1) characterize and expand our knowledge of conserved and novel gene linkages and their associated (non-coding) elements across metazoans, (2) study their evolutionary dynamics through comparative genomics and modeling approaches, and (3) establishing molecular tools for investigating their role during development and clade-specific innovation.

 

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Prof. Ulrich Technau

Vice Head of Department

Division Molecular Evolution and Development

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How complex animal body plans could arise in evolution is one of the fundamental questions in biology. We address this question by investigating the underlying genomic, molecular and developmental processes that led to the diversification of animal body plans. We use cnidarians (jellyfish, corals and anemones) as model organisms to understand the evolution of key bilaterian features: bilaterality, central nervous systems and three germ layers. Read more...

 

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Prof. Qi Zhou

Division Molecular Evolution and Development

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In many Drosophila species, autosomes have fused to the ancestral sex chromosome pair very recently which then evolve exactly like sex chromosomes. These particular so-called ’neo-sex’ systems are unique models to study fundamental questions like how X and Y chromosomes change their sequence feature and expression level during their divergence from each other, how are the processes dictated by chromosome-wide epigenetic regulatory changes, how dosage compensation evolves etc. These questions are usually very difficult to address in the classic model systems like human and Drosophila melanogaster, whose sex chromosomes are too old to study.

 

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Prof. Manuel Zimmer

Vice Head of Department

Division Neural Network Dynamics and Behaviour

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In the Zimmer lab, we are interested in how neural network dynamics in the brain represent sensory information and perform computations to generate decisions and subsequent behaviors. Moreover, we aim to explain fundamental properties of neuronal circuits, for example the need to sleep. These are key problems in neuroscience, each of which have alone challenged worldwide communities of experts for decades. We, however, propose that a holistic approach should be undertaken to understand these functions in their full context. To make this goal achievable, we take advantage of the uniquely experimentally tractable model organism C. elegans, a 1mm long nematode worm that can be found dwelling in soil. C. elegans has a small nervous system of only 302 neurons with a completely mapped connectome. Despite the small size, it can produce sophisticated behaviors. In recent years, we developed new approaches to quantify C. elegans behavior in unprecedented detail and to record the activity of all neurons simultaneously in real time. These new technologies, together with the rich and efficient genetic toolkit available for the worm, will allow the first complete understanding of any nervous system’s operational principles. In the long term our holistic approach will enable us to generate a realistic in silico simulation of the brain’s properties and behaviors. We will provide a basic proof of principle working model to guide the study of higher nervous systems and the design of brain inspired computational devices. Read more

 

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