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Cristian Caņestro

University of Barcelona
Department of Genetics, Facultat de Biologia
Av. Diagonal, 645, edifici annex, 2a planta
Barcelona, Catalunya 8028

+34 93 403 5304

Taxa Studied: Invertebrate Animals, Vertebrate Animals
Techniques Employed: Degenerate PCR, Solexa (Illumina) Sequencing, Bioinformatics/Sequence Analysis, In Situ Hybridization, Antibody Staining, Sectioning for Histology, Epifluoresence Microscopy, Confocal Microscopy, Time-Lapse Microscopy, Transgenesis, Morpholinos
Research Description: Gene losses are important because, as a potential evolutionary force, they might cause changes in the genetic mechanisms of development driving the evolution of animal body plans. In addition, the detection of gene losses helps to interpret gene phylogenies, to discriminate evolutionary novelties from simplifications, to understand the dynamics of the genomes, and to improve functional gene connectivity between human and model organisms. The study of gene losses is an aspect of Evolution that has been often neglected because, in the past, the proof for gene losses was negative, and thus could easily pass unnoticed. The current increasing number of sequenced genomes provides the opportunity to systematically determine unambiguous cases of gene losses, to test their influence on the fate of other genes and to analyze their contribution in generating biodiversity. The general aim of our lab is to provide experimental evidence to show how losses of developmental genes have impacted on the evolution of functionally linked genes, and thereby, promoted the diversification of mechanisms of development. As a case study, our lab focuses on the dismantling of the genetic machinery of retinoic acid (RA) in the Oikopleura dioica, a chordate species that has suffered extensive remodeling of its genome architecture and massive gene losses along evolution. In particular, Oikopleura has lost many key components in the retinoic acid (RA) signaling pathway, an important morphogenetic pathway of chordates, although maintains the characteristic body-plan of the phylum. Because RA morphogenetic role is so fundamental, the initial hypothesis is that the dismantling of RA genetic machinery might have had functional and evolutionary consequences in other genes. Our lab uses bioinformatic tools from Comparative Genomics and improved experimental methods from Developmental Biology to understand how the regulatory system of vertebrate RA-target homologs has evolved in the RA-free environment of Oikopleura, and to uncover previously unknown regulatory systems of RA-target genes that might have been overlooked in other chordate lineages. Findings from Oikopleura will be validated in zebrafish to infer whether such previously unknown systems are functional innovations acquired during Okopleura evolution, or whether they are ancestral features that had been masked by the functional redundancy of vertebrates.
Lab Web Page: http://www.ub.edu/genetica/evo-devo/canestro.htm
Willing to Host Undergraduates: YES
Actively Seeking Undergraduates: YES
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