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.
I am currently teaching the following courses:
Introduction to molecular techniques
Experimental developmental biology (together with M. Walzl)
Animal body plans (together with many others)
Developmental biology of marine invertebrates (together with U. Technau)
Evolution and development (together with T. Hummel and S. Tebbich)