Cellular and Developmental Genetics: early vertebrate embryonic development and determination of the germ line.
A primary focus of our research is on the functional diversification of cell types, particularly but not exclusively the development of the germ line. We use the zebrafish, Danio rerio, as a model system because it allows combining genetic, embryological and molecular approaches. In the zebrafish, as in many other animal species, all developmental processes that occur prior to the activation of the zygotic genome at the mid-blastula transition, as well as some processes that occur after this transition, are driven by maternal factors stored in the egg during oogenesis. We use an interdisciplinary approach, spanning genetics, microscopy, bioinformatics and modeling, to understand how these maternal factor-driven early embryonic processes, from the cytoskeleton to gene expression, are integrated to generate the basic body plan. We are focusing on processes that mediate the inheritance of RNA and protein components that form the germ plasm, a specialized cytoplasmic biocondensate that promotes the germ cell fate, as well as how factors within this structure activate the zygotic germ cell gene expression program.
Conservation Genetics: advanced reproductive strategies to preserve animal biodiversity.
Advanced reproductive approaches relying on biobanked animal samples can potentially help preserve biodiversity in animal populations. We are using the Danionin family of fish, which includes the genera Danio, Devario, Microdevario and Danionella, as a phylogenetic developmental model to optimize inter-species reproductive approaches. These include the generation of nucleocytoplasmic hybrids in cloning, and germ plasm and somatic chimeras for gonad and gamete production. These strategies may all allow the generation of individuals from endangered animal populations using hosts from non-endangered related species. We also use Danionins to explore optimal methods for the banking of biological samples and the regeneration of animal populations. By strategically exploring advanced sample preservation and reproductive technologies, we hope to provide useful insights relevant to the conservation of animal biodiversity.