Research in my lab focuses on understanding how nervous systems evolved. Multiple groups of animals throughout the Bilateria possess centralized nervous systems – vertebrates have an anterior brain and dorsal nerve cord, whereas annelids (segmented worms) and arthropods (insects and crustaceans) have an anterior brain and a ventral nerve cord. However, the earliest branching animals (e.g., comb jellies and jellyfish) have non-centralized nervous systems, or nerve nets. This raises the question of how and when centralized nervous systems evolved.
Most of the modern molecular descriptions of neurogenesis come from only two of the three major bilaterian clades, the deuterostomes (e.g., vertebrates) and the ecdysozoans (e.g., arthropods). There remains a huge gap in our knowledge of central nervous system development in the third bilaterian clade, the spiralians (e.g., annelids). By studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying central nervous system development in the annelid Capitella teleta, I hope to make significant contributions to our understanding of the basic mechanisms of neurogenesis in annelids and to our understanding of the evolution of centralized nervous systems.