Group research focus
Our interests are related to a set of fundamental and interconnected biological questions: How does a complex animal arise from a single cell during embryonic development? How did the first multicellular animals arise from their single-cell ancestors? What is the molecular basis of morphological diversity in the animal kingdom? Using sponges (which are the best living approximation to the first animals) as research models, we combine cuttingedge sequencing technologies with classic evolutionary thinking to gain insight into molecular basis of evolution of animal complexity.
Teaching and research achievements
My most significant research achievement is demonstration that sponges are not as different from other animals as widely assumed by contemporary biologists. Notion of homology of sponge and coral body plans has been originally developed by Ernst Haeckel over 150 years ago, but direct comparisons between adult sponges and 'true animals' became almost a taboo subject in subsequent years. It took us years of team effort, many heated discussions and several sequenced genomes, but the evidence from developmental gene expression brings the classical hypothesis back to life – and opens avenues for many future studies.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Sharing my enthusiasm for the beauty and complexity of animal life forms (and their development)!
What do you enjoy about research?
I feel extremely lucky to be able to follow my childhood dreams of getting to understand where animals come from. It is also particularly fruitful time in my research field (evo-devo or evolutionary developmental biology), as new technologies – both in terms of sequencing and manipulation of genomes – become more and more accessible. It is a wonderful life to be a biologist, here and now!