The embryological and evolutionary origins of anatomical complexity have been the subject of debate and speculation since the time of the ancients. Large-scale comparative genomic analyses have begun to yield tantalising secrets concerning the mechanisms by which anatomical complexity has emerged. However, this field has recently undergone an epiphany with the realisation that much of the ‘tool-kit’ (i.e. the transcription factors and signalling systems) of more anatomically complex animals such as vertebrates is found in relatively more simple taxa like cnidarians and sponges. Leaving researchers to wonder what accounts for the dramatic increase in anatomical complexity of protostomes and deuterostomes in comparison to sponges. This proposal plans to investigate the evolution and functional constraints of microRNAs, a class of non-coding regulatory elements that lie within a section of the genome originally labelled ‘junk DNA’. However, rather than being ‘junk’ microRNAs have been shown to play important roles in animal development with their misexpression being associated with a variety of medical conditions including, cancer and heart disease. My proposal for an International Outgoing Marie Curie Fellowship aims to provide me with world class training to underpin a world class career researching the fundamental question of how anatomical complexity is coded in the genome, and how that coding has evolved through evolutionary history. This will be realised by gaining skills and techniques lacking in the EU. I outline a programme of research that will act as a vehicle for this training, on which I will be able to make the subsequent steps in realising my aim of establishing my own research laboratory. In the interim, this Fellowship will also foster an international collaboration between the US and the EU and between regional centres within the EU.
Fields of science
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