Evolutionary Developmental Biology (Evo Devo) has emerged as one of the most exciting areas of current scientific research. The realization that animals, from humans to jellyfish, share a genetic toolkit that is used to regulate embryonic development has opened the door to the study of animal development from an evolutionary perspective. Studies on Cnidaria (hydra, corals, sea anemones, jellyfish), one of the earliest diverging animal phyla, are likely to provide important information regarding the early steps in the evolution of that toolkit. We are studying for example the hydra homologs of a gene that codes for essential proteins involved in central nervous system and/or brain development in both protostomes and deuterostomes. What is that gene doing in a creature that lacks a central nervous system? We hope that the answer to this type of question will provide evidence regarding the early phases of the evolution of the particular gene and is associated gene network.
The Evolution of Aging has intrigued scientists for a long time. How can a syndrome (aging or senescence) that has at first sight obvious negative fitness consequences for an organism be evolved? Shouldn't natural selection oppose the evolution of aging? Under what circumstances may aging evolve? Should all organisms undergo aging? Bacteria, plants, animals? Studies of the mortality rates of the cnidarian hydra seem to suggest that hydra may lack aging. My lab is carrying out a long term study of mortality rates in hydra to test the hypothesis that hydra may have indeed escaped aging. We are also studying two signaling pathways that have been implicated in the regulation of life-span in other animals.