The evolution and development of skeletal systems in marine organisms
Approach and Systems
Research in the Sleight lab uses an integrative approach to dissect questions of how and why skeletons are made in marine organisms.
Our process typically begins with careful observations of wild-type conditions using a combination of advanced imaging and state-of-the-art ‘omics technologies. This initial big-data discovery-driven approach allows us to to generate novel hypotheses for our questions of interest. We then introduce experimental perturbations in order to test our hypotheses and generate understanding of regulatory mechanisms. Our studies span the organisms entire life cycle, from the initial genesis and development, through to the growth, maintenance and repair of adult conditions, as well as the effects of ageing. Finally we compare findings between species, deploying our research tool-kit to study species in phylogenetically informative positions in order to understand how marine skeletons have evolved across micro and macro evolutionary time scales.
The systems we use depends on the nature of the question we are addressing
To understand evolutionary questions, the phylogenetic position of a species is the dominant driver in our choice to study them.
If we want to understand the evolution of biomineralisation over macro-evolutionary timescale we carry out comparisons within and between phyla.
If we want to understand the finer-scale questions on a micro-evolutionary timescale, we carry out comparisons of more closely related species, for example within a genus.
To dig into mechanistic questions, we have to use species that are amenable to manipulation in the lab.
We are collaborating with the Henry Lab at the University of Illinois, and the Lyons Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. This team of talented developmental biologists are developing Crepidula (slipper snails) as a powerful model to study the evolution of developmental processes in the Spiralia. Here in the UK, the Sleight Lab uses slipper snails as a system for both comparative and mechanistic questions.
Links to recent slipper snail papers, resources and awesome science: