Our comparative approach focuses on the evolution of the vertebrate mineralized skeleton. We are particularly interested by the mechanisms that underlie diverse aspect of bone evolution and development, such as:
- novelty: how did the mineralized skeletal tissues emerge in the vertebrate lineage?
- cell diversity: what are the transcriptional switches that occur as mesenchymal cells differentiate into osteoblast and osteocytes?
- regulatory networks: how different are the skeletal cell-specific genetic programmes of divergent vertebrate species?
To potentiate our research, we have established dynamic collaborations with national and international laboratories. We combine developmental biology to cellular biology, imaging, and transgenesis techniques to perform reporter and functional assays in vivo. Our model organism is Xenopus tropicalis, whose genome is available and which provides large number of easily accessible embryos and larvae. We are currently working on three parallel lines of investigation that tackle the problem of bone Evo-Devo at different evolutionary depths.
First, comparing Xenopus tropicalis to invertebrate chordates will shed light on the ancestral function of “skeletal-specific genes”, prior to their recruitment into the osteoblast and osteocyte regulatory network.
Second, comparing the regulatory elements and the expression of skeletal genes between Xenopus tropicalis and other vertebrates will provide clues about the evolution of bone mineralization.
Finally, comparing osteogenesis between Xenopus tropicalis and endemic Chilean frogs will allow us to study how evolutionary changes can affect developmental trajectories and produce the diversity of skeletal phenotypes observed in anurans.