Evolutionary Developmental Genomics (EDGe) Group

The Scottish Oceans Institute School of Biology . University of St Andrews

We aim to understand how the diversity of animal form develops and evolved. The focus of our research is the connection between the content and organisation of genomes to the evolution of development (evo-devo).  The homeobox-containing genes of the Hox gene cluster have been a corner-stone of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, but much about cluster organisation and mode of operation remains unknown.

Also the Hox system is not unique as a gene cluster controlling animal development, further homeobox gene clusters being the ParaHox and NK clusters, all of which evolved within larger arrays of homeobox genes (the Mega-cluster, Giga-cluster and Super-Hox cluster). In addition to these issues of gene/genome organisation much of evo-devo has also involved changes to gene content (gene gains and losses) as well as redeployment into new roles.

We utilize a variety of organisms in our research (including amphioxus, sea squirts, polychaetes and priapulids), chosen from key points in the phylogeny of the animals to enable reconstruction of the ancestral conditions at major nodes in the animal kingdom; the origin of bilaterians, protostomes, deuterostomes, chordates and vertebrates, as well as the origin of the entire animal kingdom. Knowledge of such ancestors is vital in understanding subsequent diversification.