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Group News Feed
March 2015 - Check out the lab's presence at the Leeds Festival of Science - Discovery Zone
January 2015 - Rahul Sharma joins the lab as a Post Doc
October 2014 - Matthew Dooley & Peter Harrison join the lab as PhD students
Lab is awarded a BBSRC New Investigator Research Grant
Lab is awarded a Marie Curie CIG grant
Meet our Group
Our lab is interested in how animal evolution occurs at different levels of biological complexity; i.e. genetic, cellular, organismal and ecological. Our research efforts to date have focused on understanding how diversity in animal body plans evolved.
Our work compares the genetic and cellular mechanisms controlling
embryogenesis in different animal species in order to identify the molecular changes that underpinned divergence in animal body plans during evolution.
The red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum
Our research currently focuses on a laboratory model insect species, the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. This is a holometabolous insect species, meaning that it exhibits 'complete metamorphosis', passing from larva to adult via a pupal stage. We study Tribolium because it is becoming increasing amenable to genetic manipulation in the laboratory and has retained a number of interesting ancestral developmental traits, such as the sequential formation of body segments during embryogenesis.
From left to right : Peter Harrison, Andrew Peel, Rahul Sharma & Matthew Dooley.
Learn more about our group here.
The evolution of segmentation mechanisms in holometabolous insects
One of the aims of our work is to provide important insights into how developmental gene networks evolve. This can be achieved by gaining a deep understanding of the developmental genetic mechanisms operating in Tribolium, and identifying how these are similar or different to the development genetic mechanisms operating in other holometabolous insect species; e.g. the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis, the honeybee Apis mellifera, the moths Bombyx mori and Manduca sexta, and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (see Peel, 2008. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci.). We are interested in using comparative developmental biology to understand how the gene networks controlling body segment formation have evolved (see Peel, Chipman & Akam, 2005. Nat. Rev. Genet.).
Ancestrally, insects developed their trunk segments sequentially, in an anterior-to-posterior progression. This developmental trait is found in more primitive, non-holometabolous, insect species, such as grasshoppers and true bugs, as well as non-insect arthropods such as centipedes and spiders. The beetle Tribolium is an example of a holometabolous insect species that has also retained this ancestral trait during evolution. However, many other holometaoblous insects, including Nasonia, Apis and Drosophila, have evolved a faster mode of development in which all body segments form more-or-less simultaneously.
By studying the genetic and cellular mechanisms underlying Tribolium body segment specification we can explore how this evolutionary transition from sequential to simultaneous segmentation might have occurred.
The origin and evolution of segmentation mechanisms in animals
We also make comparisons between much more distantly related animals. Andrew's recent work contributed to demonstrating that the genetic developmental mechanism controlling the formation of body segments in Tribolium shows striking similarities to the developmental mechanism that gives rise to repeated internal body structures in humans, such as our vertebrate/ribs and their associated muscle (see Sarrazin*, Peel* & Averof, 2012. Science).
Segmented structures in arthropods and vertebrates both form under the control of a 'segmentation clock' gene network. We are currently investigating whether the arthropod and vertebrate segmentation clocks are sufficiently similar at the genetic level to suggest that they were both inherited from the common ancestor of arthropods and vertebrates. This ancestral animal lived over 550 million years ago. The alternative possibility is that arthropod and vertebrate segmentation clocks represent an interesting case of parallel evolution, in which similar gene networks have evolved, or been recruited, independently, to pattern reiterated morphological structures.
Either way, our work promises to offer important insights into some of the earliest events in the evolution of animal developmental mechanisms.
Peel AD*; Schanda J*; Grossmann D*; Ruge F; Oberhofer G; Gilles AF; Schinko JB; Klingler M; Bucher G (2013). Tc-knirps plays different roles in the specification of antennal and mandibular parasegment boundaries and is regulated by a pair-rule gene in the beetle Tribolium castaneum. BMC Dev. Biol. Vol. 13:25
Sarrazin AF*; Peel AD*; Averof M (2012). A segmentation clock with two-segment periodicity in insects. Science Vol. 336, 338-341
Peel AD; Averof M (2010). Early asymmetries in maternal transcript distribution associated with a cortical microtubule network and a polar body in the beetle Tribolium castaneum. Dev. Dyn. Vol. 239, 2875-2887
Lynch JA; Peel AD; Drechsler A; Averof M; Roth S (2010). EGF signaling and the origin of axial polarity among the insects. Curr. Biol. Vol. 20, 1042-1047
Peel AD (2008). The evolution of developmental gene networks: lessons from comparative studies on holometabolous insects. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci. Vol. 363, 1539-1547
Peel AD; Telford MJ; Akam M (2006). The evolution of hexapod engrailed-family genes: evidence for conservation and concerted evolution. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society Vol. 273, 1733-1742
Peel AD; Chipman AD; Akam M (2005). Arthropod segmentation: beyond the Drosophila paradigm. Nat. Rev. Genet. Vol. 6, 905-916
Peel A; Akam M (2003). Evolution of segmentation: rolling back the clock. Curr. Biol. Vol. 13, R708-R710
Flour beetles are also a classical laboratory model system for studying intra- and interspecific ecological interactions, and among many significant beetle pests of stored food products. In collaboration with other members of the School of Biology we are currently developing a number of projects investigating the genetic factors that influence Tribolium behaviour and community ecology, with a view to improving beetle pest management and understanding the factors involved in the maintenance of species diversity.