ESR fellow in Hejnol Lab, Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology, Norway
One of the stepping-stones in animal evolution is the emergence of a nervous system. Sensing, transducting, processing and finally reacting to outer (or inner) stimuli within a short time span is only possible by a fast transmission of signals between different body parts. Therefore a nerve net is used to forward signals fast within the body and signal transmitters are needed to transfer the signal from one cell to another through the extracellular space. A very diverse group of neurotransmitters are neuropeptides – short peptides of only a few amino acids that transfer signals between cells and which can thereby alter physiological behavior. Neuropeptides can be found in all kinds of metazoans – from mammalians who possess a complex centralized nervous system, to cnidarians which have a diffuse nerve net. In order to get a better understanding of the evolution of the nervous system and the diversity of neuropeptides therein, I am investigating the neuropeptide complement and expression in previously understudied animal groups. The animals that are available in our lab comprise different groups in evolutionary interesting positions, like acoels (Convolutriloba macropyga, Isodiametra pulchra), brachiopods (Novocrania anomala, Terebratalia transversa), bryozoans (Membranipora membranacea), ctenophores (Mnemiopsis leidyi), gastrotrichs (Lepidodermella squamatum), nemertodermatids (Meara stichopi) and priapulids (Priapulus caudatus, Halicryptus spinulosus). Spatio-temporal studies on the development of the nervous system and the expression pattern of neuropeptides will give new insights into these animal groups and expand our knowledge of nervous system diversity, complexity and evolution within the metazoans.
Since a child, I was always interested in animals and their diversity, especially when it comes to invertebrates. In school evolution and genetics caught my main interest and I joined the advanced course of biology. During my bachelor studies, I started to explore the diversity of aquatic invertebrate taxa and investigated deep-sea polychaetes in my thesis. During my Master studies my focus was on the nervous system and sensory organs. I studied the nervous system of different lophotrochozoans and photoreceptive organs by combining morphological and molecular data, and compared the results in front of an evolutionary background. Seeing myself at the beginning of a scientific research career, my main research interests are related to the sensory- and nervous system of invertebrates and the evolution of animal life with its vast diversity.