Professor Bernie Degnan
We study the function and evolution of animal genomes and body plans, specifically seeking to understand the genomic basis of the origin of animal complexity. Using the Great Barrier Reef sponge Amphimedon queenslandica as a model, we work on genes critical in animal development, cell specialisation and immunity, allowing us to identify genomic features shared amongst sponges, humans and other animals and thus the most fundamental aspects of multicellular life. This approach and perspective informs our strategic and applied research into the molecular basis of environmentally- and commercially-important traits in tropical marine and aquaculture systems.
Evolutionary genomics and developmental biology.
Through the analysis of genomes, cells and developmental processes we seek to contribute to a basic understanding of the origin and diversification of animals. The origin of key animal cell types, such as stem cells, neurons and those involved in immunity, is a current point of focus.
Aquaculture and marine biotechnology.
Using advanced genomic and molecular analyses, and in collaboration with industry partners and state and federal scientific agencies, we address strategic and applied problems in aquaculture and the marine environment. We currently have a strong focus on the molecular mechanisms underpinning pearl and shell biofabrication, and have worked a range of aquaculture production and health issues, along with unravelling the genetics of biofouling. We have been involved in range of tropical and temperate industries, working with molluscs (pearl oysters, abalone & scallops) and crustaceans (black tiger and Kumura shrimp & lobster). Using the sponge genome, we are involved in dissecting the synthetic pathways that produce bioactive compounds of commercial value.
We are also interested in fundamental questions about how coral reef invertebrates live and evolve. Studying a wide range of invertebrates, including sponges, gastropods, cephalopods, ascidians, bryozoans and sipunculans, we are interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying (i) the biomineralization of skeletons and shells, (ii) metamorphosis and (iii) chemical communication in the ocean.
Steinmetz P et al. (2012). Independent evolution of striated muscles in cnidarians and bilaterians. Nature 487: 231-234
Conaco C et al. (2012). Functionalization of a proto-synaptic gene expression network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 10612-10618
Cummins S et al. (2011). Extreme aggression in male squid induced by a beta-MSP-like pheromone. Current Biology 21: 322-327
Srivastava M et al. (2010). The Amphimedon queenslandica genome and the evolution of animal complexity. Nature 466: 720-726
Jackson D et al. (2010). Parallel evolution of nacre building gene sets in molluscs. Molecular Biology & Evolution 27: 591-608