PhD position / project: Developmental genetics of amphioxus: a window into the evolution of vertebrate body plan

Transcriptional Regulation

We investigate embryonic development using an integrative approach combining molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, biochemistry, and bioinformatics in order to get insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying the process of animal development and its tinkering during the course of evolution… More about the laboratory

Project: Developmental genetics of amphioxus: a window into the evolution of vertebrate body plan


Zbyněk Kozmik

Project description

Vertebrates have greatly elaborated the basic chordate body plan and evolved highly distinctive genomes that have been sculpted by two whole-genome duplications. The genome of invertebrate chordate amphioxus has not undergone whole-genome duplication and serves as a proxy to ancestral chordates. Although amphioxus lacks the specializations and innovations of vertebrates, it shares with them a basic body plan and has multiple organs and structures homologous to those of vertebrates. For these reasons, amphioxus has widely been used as a reference outgroup to infer ancestral versus novel features during vertebrate evolution. Over the past few years amphioxus has become an established laboratory model and its cultures can be maintained throughout the year at the Institute of Molecular Genetics. This allows for an implementation of plethora of molecular and genetics approaches common to classical vertebrate models such as mouse, chick or fish. Moreover, recent publication on Amphioxus functional genomics and the origins of vertebrate gene regulation (Marletaz et al., Nature 564(7734):64-70) provides a huge genomic resource for future studies focused on gene regulatory mechanisms underlying evolution of vertebrate body plan.

Project will focus on evolution of cell types, ancestral chordate features and vertebrate-specific innovations, using comparative analysis between amphioxus and vertebrates. The methods used will include basic bioinformatics, gene expression studies (single cell RNA-seq, whole-mount in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry), analysis of gene knockouts established in the lab using CRISPR/Cas9 system, and reporter gene transgenesis.

Candidate profile

We are searching for a highly motivated and hard-working PhD student with a strong interest in animal evolution and evolution of development (evo-devo). The candidate should hold a master degree in zoology, genetics, molecular biology, cell biology, or in a related field.

Suggested reading

  • Kozmikova I, Kozmik Z: Wnt/β-catenin signaling is an evolutionarily conserved determinant of chordate dorsal organizer. Elife 2020 9. [pubmed] [doi]
  • Pergner J, Vavrova A, Kozmikova I, Kozmik Z: Molecular Fingerprint of Amphioxus Frontal Eye Illuminates the Evolution of Homologous Cell Types in the Chordate Retina. Front Cell Dev Biol 2020 8: 705. [pubmed] [doi]
  • Prummel KD, Hess C, Nieuwenhuize S, Parker HJ, Rogers KW, Kozmikova I, Racioppi C, Brombacher EC, Czarkwiani A, Knapp D, Burger S, Chiavacci E, Shah G, Burger A, Huisken J, Yun MH, Christiaen L, Kozmik Z, Müller P, Bronner M, Krumlauf R, Mosimann C: A conserved regulatory program initiates lateral plate mesoderm emergence across chordates. Nat Commun 2019 10(1): 3857. [pubmed] [doi]
  • Marlétaz F, Firbas PN, Maeso I, Tena JJ, Bogdanovic O, Perry M, Wyatt CDR, de la Calle-Mustienes E, Bertrand S, Burguera D, Acemel RD, van Heeringen SJ, Naranjo S, Herrera-Ubeda C, Skvortsova K, Jimenez-Gancedo S, Aldea D, Marquez Y, Buono L, Kozmikova I, Permanyer J, Louis A, Albuixech-Crespo B, Le Petillon Y, Leon A, Subirana L, Balwierz PJ, Duckett PE, Farahani E, Aury JM, Mangenot S, Wincker P, Albalat R, Benito-Gutiérrez È, Cañestro C, Castro F, D’Aniello S, Ferrier DEK, Huang S, Laudet V, Marais GAB, Pontarotti P, Schubert M, Seitz H, Somorjai I, Takahashi T, Mirabeau O, Xu A, Yu JK, Carninci P, Martinez-Morales JR, Crollius HR, Kozmik Z, Weirauch MT, Garcia-Fernàndez J, Lister R, Lenhard B, Holland PWH, Escriva H, Gómez-Skarmeta JL, Irimia M: Amphioxus functional genomics and the origins of vertebrate gene regulation. Nature 2018 564(7734): 64-70. [pubmed] [doi]