Research in the Coffman Lab addresses fundamental questions of developmental biology: How does a single-celled zygote develop into a complex multi-cellular animal, and how is that process controlled by genetic information and environmental context? How and why does development impose limits on an animal's ability to regenerate lost body parts? And why does health decline with age? The experimental model that we use to address these questions is the sea urchin, which offers unique advantages not found in other organisms used for biomedical research. Sea urchin embryos are easy to obtain, easily manipulated and cultured in the lab, and optically transparent; and while they are relatively simple and hence experimentally tractable, they are far more similar to vertebrate embryos than are the embryos of other invertebrate research models. Importantly, the genome of the sea urchin has been sequenced, and the genetic system that controls the embryo's development is the best characterized of any model organism, involving numerous genes and genetic control circuits that also control human development. Hence the sea urchin is well suited for experimental approaches to answering the fundamental questions posed above, and the knowledge thus obtained is directly relevant to human health.
Developmental Physiology and Functional Genomics of Sea Urchin Embryos and Larvae
We are interested in how cell fate during animal development, regeneration, and aging is controlled by the interactions between genetic information, cell signaling, physiology, and the environment. We use sea urchin embryos as an experimental model to study this problem because they are highly accessible to experimental manipulation at many different levels, and their genome has been sequenced and annotated. Currently we have a number of projects that provide opportunities for student research participation involving microscopy and imaging, microinjection and microsurgical manipulation of embryos, bioinformatics and genomics, biochemistry, and molecular biology.
Robin Ertl, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Chris McCarty, M.S., Research Assistant