We study how new organs originate and how they subsequently change in form and function across species.
A fundamental problem in biology is understanding how new cells, new tissues, or whole new organs are created. Our lab works on this problem by studying an exceptional organ: the placenta.
The placenta controls the physiological exchanges between the mother and her foetus and is essential for pregnancy. Our placenta originated more than 160 million years ago in the ancestors of placental mammals and marsupials. Since then, it has evolved to create an incredible diversity of forms and functions across mammals.
Placentas are thought to have evolved independently as many as 100 times in vertebrates. There are evolutionary young and old placentas in many fishes, lizards, and snakes. This makes the placenta an exceptional organ in which to study how organs originate and how they evolve across species.
In our lab we study the evolution and development of the placenta in fishes and in mammals. In one project we directly address the question of how new organs are created by identifying the genetic, cellular and developmental conditions that have allowed the repeated and independent evolution of placentas in a group of closely related fishes.
In another project we focus on one of the most fascinating aspects of pregnancy - the mother’s tolerance to the direct contact between her own cells and those of her foetus. We study how maternal immune systems have evolved different solutions in different mammals (including in humans) to deal with the challenges of the foetus on the mother’s immune system.