Research in the Sleight lab uses an integrative approach to dissect questions of how and why skeletons are made in marine organisms.
Our research 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-evolutioanry 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 incredibly talented developmental biologist are firmly forging the path for Crepidula (slipper snails) as a powerful model to study the evolution of developmental processes in the Spiralia.
Links to their recent papers, resources and awesome science:
- An automated aquatic rack system for rearing marine invertebrates
- Beyond the Sea: Crepidula Atrasolea as a Spiralian Model System
- Molluscan models: Crepidula fornicata
- BMP Signaling Plays a Role in Anterior-Neural/Head Development, but Not Organizer Activity, in the Gastropod Crepidula fornicata
- Protocols and molecular resources freely available at the Henry Lab website
- Watch Maryna Lesoway talk about why she uses Crepidula to study questions of sex determination (made by Isabelle Vea) and checkout Maryna’s personal website here.
We take what we learn about the fundamental biology of biomineralisation and apply it to questions of broad societal interest.
How will marine calcifiers fare in a changing world?
Can we help shellfish farmers to grow strong, disease resistant shells?
Can we help shellfish farmers achieve nutritional excellence using more sustainable and efficient processes?
Can we apply our research on the fundamental biology of an organisms external barrier to tackle problematic invasive species?