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April Hill’s Lab

We use marine and freshwater sponges as model systems to ask questions about the genetics and development of animal evolution and symbioses. Sponges are ancient animals that retain characteristics of an early experiment in multicellularity while also sharing some highly conserved features with other metazoans; these unique features provide a system in which to explore hypotheses about the evolution of animals. Research in our lab focuses the role of conserved developmental control genes and gene networks that originated prior to advent of animal adaptations such as tissues and nervous systems. We also work on elucidating the genetic pathways involved in the evolution of animal symbioses and their role in sponge development.

Current Projects

  • Was the Pax/Six gene regulatory network already established in sponges and what was the role of these genes before the evolution of eyes?
  • Determining the function of developmental control genes using RNAi to knockdown gene expression in freshwater sponges?
  • Development of gene delivery methods for overexpression of target genes and the creation of transgenic sponges?
  • What epigenetic machinery was in place at the dawn of animal multicellarity and what roles to DNA methyltransferases play in gene regulation in sponges?
  • What genes are upregulated during the initiation of zooxantheller symbioses in a tropical marine sponge after bleaching?
  • What is the role of the Wnt Pathway in sponge morphogenesis and are those roles conserved in animal evolution?

Current Lab Members

Carlos Cevallos ‘17
Rachel Dumez ‘17
Benjamin Kornegay ‘17
Melanie Rodriquez ‘17
Josie Garcia ‘18
Aheema Gazi ‘18
Conal Masters ‘18
Gabrielle Gentile ‘18
Henry Agyei-Dwaah ‘19
Sara Camilli ‘19
Maria Shaia ‘19