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Robert M Freeman Jr.
Staff Scientist, lab of Dr. Marc Kirschner, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115

Robert M Freeman Jr.

We are interested in the early strategic processes of the developing organism, particularly the establishment of the body plan and axes. Much work has been done in model organisms to elucidate the establishment of the body plan. But one question that remains is what processes were used by our common ancestor, and how does that reflect on the establishment of the body plan in humans and others in the chordate phyla.

To this end, we are studying the enteropneust Saccoglossus kowalevskii (Acorn worm) and its early development. Using several complementary approaches, we have been studying the formation of the anteroposterior and dorsoventral axes. For the latter, I have focused upon the establishment of opposing actions by BMP and Chordin, and how these opposing signals effect key downstream developmental processes. We utilize a number of techniques including gene discovery from EST sequencing, overexpression and RNAi microinejctions, in situs, and microarrays. As the genome sequence for Saccoglossus kowalevksii has been completed, we hope that comparative analyses with other model organisms will facilitate new discoveries concerning the organization of the early bilateral ancestor.

In addition to the wet-lab bench work, I also am the informatics and technology coordinator for our research team. With over two decades of programming, systems design, and integration experience, it is an ongoing challenge for me to design and deploy computational tools for analysis and visualization of our large data sets. These include our large EST collection, a custom Saccoglossus microarray, a large in situ analysis collection (> 5000 images), genomic scaffolds, and two sets of gene models. The challenge lies in the opportunity and necessity to process and integrate multiple data types, work with mature and cutting edge technologies, and establish data sets that become the reference standard for our emerging model system. I also work closely with the entire team to establish best practices for preserving experimental (contextual) information for our data, which facilitates comparative developmental methodologies.

Our multi-geographic research team includes Dr. John Gerhart, at the University of California Berkeley, and Dr. Chris Lowe, at Stanford University. We are especially privileged in that each spring and fall our group travels to the Marine Biological Labs in Woods Hole, MA to work with the live animals.

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