Cristina Pineiro Lopez

Cristina_P_L_pictureER fellow in Jékely Lab, Max Plank Society Tübingen, Germany

Project summary

In emerging animal model systems, such as the marine annelid Platynereis dumerilii and other marine invertebrates, dissecting gene function in vivo remains challenging. To enable functional genetic studies throughout the entire lifecycle of Platynereis, new tools for engineering stable and heritable gene knockout are needed. The main goal of my project is to establish tools for genetic manipulation in Platynereis.
The Jékely lab studies the anatomy and function of neuronal circuits that regulate the planktonic migration of ciliated zooplankton larvae. The aim is to link molecules to neuron types, neurons to larval behaviour and behaviours to marine ecology. For example, several neuropeptides responsible for regulating Platynereis larval behaviour have been reported and described. Neuropeptide function can be studied in vivo by the addition of synthetic peptides to the seawater and the recording of larval responses. However, for in-depth analyses of neuropeptides and their receptors, knockout and knock-in animals are required. To achieve this, I will test novel genetic engineering methods (ZFNs, TALENs and CRISPR-Cas9) in Platynereis. This process will be assisted by genetic engineering expertise already available in the Neptune network, for example, in the crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis, the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and the jellyfish Clytia. I will subsequently adapt and spread successful techniques to other model organisms within the Neptune network, focusing on upcoming models such as the flatworm Maritigrella crozieri.

 Research interests

During my studies, including some marine biology courses, I was fascinated by marine invertebrate organisms. My favourite group of marine invertebrates is the Nudibranchia Suborder.
I am interested in neurobiology, developmental genetics and evo-devo. My PhD research was directly related to all of these topics. During my PhD I studied the Drosophila visual system, focusing on the gene network regulating lamina specification and differentiation during larval development. For this project I used genetic tools (MARCM, FLP/FRT, RNAi, Gal4-UAS, transgenesis), confocal microscopy, immunohistochemistry, biochemistry, and in situ hybridization.
In my future scientific career I aim to link my research in these disciplines to marine biology and marine invertebrates as model organisms. I am also interested in comparative studies between marine invertebrates and established model organisms (e.g. Drosophila, mouse, zebrafish) from an evo-devo perspective. I would also like to gain more experience in genetic engineering, which I find a very interesting field. Hence, being part of this large, collaborative project is a great opportunity to develop my scientific career towards my objectives.