Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - ZOONET (Development and evolution of animal form: training modern comparative zoologists)

The main aim of the field of evo-devo and the ZOONET research training network was to understand the pattern and process of animal evolution.

The pattern of evolution is essentially an historic description of animal evolution and refers to when did certain groups of animals with specific characteristics of interest first appear. Reconstructing this history depends on the establishment of a reliable phylogenetic or genealogical tree of the animal groups. The members of ZOONET accomplished a number of contributions towards furthering our understanding of the animal tree with publications concentrating on the evolution of the deuterostomes, including echinoderms and vertebrates, and the arthropods and relatives, such as insects, nematodes etc. Our published studies included analyses of both living and fossil taxa and development of new bioinformatic software for the manipulation of large scale molecular data sets.

The process of evolution could be studied through concentrating on the areas of the tree of life where key evolutionary transitions took place and asking how genes or genomes evolved to give rise to the novel structures we see. The members of ZOONET used molecular developmental techniques to study, inter alia, the origins of insect wings and tracheal breathing, the evolution of a segmented body plan, the evolution of arthropod appendages and the origins of the arthropod head.

While techniques for the study of developmental genetics, essentially involving manipulation of genes' expression, were far advanced in model taxa such as fruit flies and nematodes, many subject of evo-devo research were less well established as experimental organisms. We had the opportunity to develop the techniques applicable in our chosen invertebrate species and therefore developed gene knockdown technology in several species as well as techniques to misexpress genes by using microinjection and stable genetic transformation in the genomes of some of our study animals

Our final main objective was to continue beyond the study of genes already known from model lab organisms, e.g. fruit flies, nematodes and vertebrates, to develop methods to screen genes from non-models for a potential role in embryogenesis and patterning of morphological characters of interest. The success in this respect included the development of a computer-based method for the analysis of gene expression screens, by analyses of in situ hybridisation experiments. These techniques allowed for comparisons in which large gene ranges were switched on during the embryogenesis of an annelid worm for broader comparisons. Secondly, members of the network participated in mutagenesis screens of the beetle tribolium and enhancer trap screens of the crustacean parhyale using the transgenesis technology which was previously described. In both cases the aim was to identify new genes involved in embryogenesis.

Regarding training, the network provided approximately 43 years of PhD training and 20 years of postdoctoral training. Training opportunities originated from a variety of sources, such as training through lab exchanges, through scientific meetings including research presentations, as well as through research and courses. For example, we ran two two-week courses which were also open to young European researchers from outside the network. The extensive training and networking undertaken by the participants went a long way to ensure advancement in their future careers.

The networking aspect of ZOONET was one of the most successful aspects of the network. We frequently met and quickly established an enthusiastic and relaxed atmosphere in which younger members of the network mixed regularly and freely with established researchers from throughout the European Union. We also had frequent external visitors attending our courses and meetings ensuring that both Experienced researchers (ERs) and Early stage researchers (ESRs) had access to senior scientists outside of the network PIs. Many of the scientific collaborations were also extended beyond the confines of ZOONET to include numerous other labs across the world.

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