Evolutionary Origins and Function of Animal Specific Gene Regulatory Networks: Insights from the Sponges

Mon, May 16 12:00pm
Cram Conf. Room - Mol Sci 3440
Speaker Professor April Hill
Hosted by
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
(310) 825-0771

Instructional Division Research Seminar

"Evolutionary Origins and Function of Animal Specific Gene Regulatory Networks: Insights from the Sponges"

Abstract: Since the sequencing of the first spongegenomes, we have known that these early animals possess members of most of the animal specific transcriptionfactor, signal transduction and structural gene families. Sponges thus have genes that are crucial for setting up pathways for growth, differentiation, cell specification, adhesion, innate immunity and self/non-self recognition. It also appears that many metazoan-specific characteristics evolved before the sponges diverged from the rest of the animal lineage including stem cells, peristaltic-like contractions, and environmentally stimulated behaviors even though they lack muscles, nerves and a gut. Sponges thus represent the opportunity to study novel molecular mechanisms for key aspects of animal development. And they also offer the possibility of elucidating fundamental conserved molecular, cellular and developmental pathways in early animals. Our work on the Pax/Six and Wnt signaling pathways in the model freshwater sponge, Ephydatia muelleri, demonstrate both novel and putative conserved roles for these animal specific gene networks in the sister group of the Metazoa.  
Prof. April Hill, professor of biology and director of the University of Richmond's HHMI funded Undergraduate Science Education Program, will also give a curricular development seminar titled “Development, Implementation and Outcomes of an Integrated Science Curriculum for First-Year STEM Students” on Tuesday, May 17th, from 4 pm to 5 pm in BSRB 154.  
In addition to developing and teaching interdisciplinary first-year research-centered STEM courses, Prof. Hill oversees a summer bridge program that focuses on building community and research skills for incoming students who are from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. She is passionate about undergraduate research and uses sponges to ask questions about the gene regulatory networks important in the development of body plans and symbioses. She is a NSF, HHMI, NIH-NIGMS PULSE Vision & Change Leadership Fellow.