We are interested in the development and evolution of the vertebrate nervous system and sense organs. One major focus of our research are cranial placodes, the precursors of most ganglia and sense organs in the vertebrate head.
We mainly use the clawed toad Xenopus laevis as a model organism to study their development. In addition, we try to elucidate evolutionary origins and modifications of cranial sense organs by comparison with other chordates.
In previous studies we cloned the Xenopus Eya1 gene and provided the first detailed description and fatemap of placode development in Xenopus.. We also did the first comprehensive functional analyses of upstream regulators of Eya1 and Six1 in Xenopus placodes and analysed the role of Eya1 and Six1 in regulating neurogenesis in placodes.
In recent studies, we used RNA-Seq of the placodal transcriptome after injection of hormone-inducible constructs of Eya1 and Six1 to identify putative Eya1 and Six1 target genes. We currently study the function of these target genes and of Eya1 protein interaction partners in placode development.
We also pursue broader questions of sensory development and evolution as well as more general theoretical problems concerning the evolution of developmental processes.