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From Gene Regulatory Networks to Specification, Differentiation and Morphogenesis in the sea urchin embryo

Final Report Summary - ECT-SPEC-DIFF-MORPH (From Gene Regulatory Networks to Specification, Differentiation and Morphogenesis in the sea urchin embryo)

The major scientific objective of the project Ect-Spec-Diff-Morph was to address two fundamental questions: How does the regulatory information encoded in genome control the spatio-temporal expression patterns of genes? How do changes in the regulatory code translate into morphological changes and lead to alteration of the body plan? The career and implementation goals of the project were to establish my lab at the Haifa University, to recruit and train students and research scholars, to publish the results of the research in scientific journals and present them in scientific meetings and make them accessible to the public. During the four years of the project we have successfully achieved our scientific, career and implementation goals. This achievements include, establishing a leading sea urchin lab at the University of Haifa, recruiting and training students and scholars, generating high impact research that resulted in five publications in peer reviewed scientific journals, presenting our results in international scientific meetings as well as to the general public.
These are the main scientific discoveries made during the project:
1. We unraveled the intricate regulatory interactions that lead to the aboral ectoderm specification downstream of BMP signaling pathway. We revealed that the hypoxic inducible factors 1a (Hif1A) participates in the initiation of the aboral ectoderm regulatory state. (Published in Developmental Biology 2013).
2. We discovered striking interspecies conservation of the expression dynamics of regulatory and differentiation genes between two sea urchin species that are geographically and genetically distant. This demonstrates the amazing ability of gene regulatory networks to conserve expression dynamics over 50 million years of evolution. (Published in Plos Genetics 2015).
3. We studied the developmental transcriptomes of P. lividus at seven developmental time points, from the fertilized egg to the prism stage. This portrays the rich patterns of temporal genes expression that drives sea urchin embryogenesis and provide and essential recourse for the sea urchin community. (Published in Marine Genomics 2016).
4. We discovered that maternal mRNAs are longer than zygotic mRNA in sea urchin embryos, specifically, their coding sequences and 3'UTR. This indicates differential gene usage and regulation of the maternal transcripts. We also measure the turn-over rates of maternal mRNAs due to maternal and zygotic degradation mechanisms and learn that they are not correlated. This indicates that the maternal and zygotic degradation mechanisms are independent and probably relay on different regulatory sequences in the 3'UTRs of the maternal transcripts. (Published in Developmental Biology 2016).
I also wrote an invited review about gene regulatory networks to the frontiers in genetics and it was published in 2016.
The lab personal includes a highly trained lab manager, four MSc students and several undergraduate students. A post-doc that was trained in the lab during this time had found a research position at the Weizmann institute of science. The results of the work were presented in various international scientific meetings. Our research was made accessible to the public in two events of the scientists' night at the University of Haifa and two presentations to the general public. Thus, we have fully accomplished our scientific as well as our training and dissemination goals during the time of the project.