Cells are continually reshaped throughout evolution allowing for animals to adapt to an everchanging environment. Studies on the evolution of development have largely focused on morphology at the whole-animal level. Moreover, most of our mechanistic insights into how animals evolve are at the microevolutionary scale and involve the loss or gain of traits due to changes in allele frequencies. My lab will focus on the evolution of novel cell types and cellular behaviors by comparing homologous cells across distantly related chordate species. I will study how cells evolve at the levels of individual fate specification to multicellular morphogenesis. My goal is to reconstruct how cellular innovations emerge through evolution and use this knowledge to create novel cell types and behaviors at will in the lab.
My lab will explore these questions in instances of known developmental innovation. Specifically, I will analyze cellular innovation in the annual killifish Nothobranchius furzeri, whose embryos evolved under strong selection pressure imposed by their environment that evaporates during the dry season. Their radical dispersed cell stage and ability to enter diapause distinguish them uniquely from other teleosts and make them ideal for studying novelty. In parallel, I will delve further into how vertebrate-specific cell types such as neurogenic placodes evolved from invertebrate chordates, using the tunicate model Ciona robusta. Having multiple, highly tractable models that are ideal for both genetics and imaging will allow me to understand how cellular innovations emerge and how to synthetically create them.
Abitua, P.B., Aksel, D.C., and Schier, A.F. 2021. Axis formation in annual killifish: Nodal coordinates morphogenesis in absence of Huluwa prepatterning. 04.16.440199; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.04.16.440199.
Lord, N. D., Carte, A.N., Abitua, P.B., Schier, A.F. 2021. The pattern of Nodal morphogen signaling is shaped by co-receptor expression. eLife 10:e54894. PMID: 34036935.
Abitua, P.B., Gainous, T.B., Kaczmarczyk, A.N., Winchell, C. J., Hudson, C., Kamata, K., Nakagawa, M., Tsuda, M., Kusakabe, T. G., and Levine, M. 2015. The pre-vertebrate origins of neurogenic placodes. Nature 524, 462-465.
Haupaix, N*., Abitua, P.B*., Sirour, C., Yasuo, H., Levine, M., and Hudson, C. 2014. Ephrin-mediated restriction of ERK1/2 activity delimits the number of pigment cells in the Ciona CNS. Developmental Biology 394, 170-180.
Abitua, P.B., Wagner, E., Navarrete I.A., and Levine, M. 2012. Identification of a rudimentary neural crest in a non-vertebrate chordate. Nature 492, 104-107.
* These authors contributed equally to the publications.