Image by Filip Zrnzević

Current Projects

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ERC Starting Grant

SEA2LAND

Land animal evolution: genomic landmarks on the path to terrestrial life

To conquer land from marine environments, animals changed radically the way they breath, reproduce, move or smell. And they did it multiple times in the history of Earth, with terrestrial animals massively outnumbering aquatic ones. Understanding terrestrialization is therefore key to comprehending animal biodiversity and biological adaptation. Despite the relevance of such an episode, the genetic underpinnings orchestrating terrestrialization in animals are largely unexplored. The project will test the hypothesis that animals are equipped with a highly plastic ‘terrestrialization genetic toolkit’ that allowed their adaptation to the extreme environmental conditions in terrestrial ecosystems. This adventure involves genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and protein engineering. Do you want to join? We are hiring!

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ARTHROLAND

Unraveling the evolution of terrestrial arthropods through phylogenomics

Arthropods conquered land multiple times in the history of Earth.  This project aims at shedding light into the land arthropod evolution through genomics and transcriptomics with emphasis on lineages with both marine and terrestrial taxa, as well as to provide a state-of-the-art molecular dating for the Arthropoda Tree of Life.

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Reconstructing water to land transitions in arthropods through atoms, genes and fossils
 

Successfully dealing with oxygen, a vital gas and a lethal toxin, is a key process that has shaped biodiversity for billions of years. Oxygen pressure differs in water and air, and has also changed dramatically through time. The evolution of oxygen homeostasis is thus critical for the origin of earth-dwelling species and the rise of the modern biosphere. Using arthropods as model systems, we will test the hypothesis that oxygen level changes triggered the convergent evolution of aerial respiration, thus facilitating the conquest of dry land. For that, we will apply (i) a physical-chemical approach to study the properties of the oxygen chain for different respiratory organ architectures and investigate the formation of damaging reactive oxygen species on different hemocyanins and hemolymph compositions; (ii) a genomics approach to interrogate the dynamics of hemocyanin evolution and cell type homology in respiratory structures across arthropods and interrogate their mechanistic ancestral evolution through time; and (iii) a paleontological approach to investigate morphological evolution of respiratory-like structures in exceptionally preserved Paleozoic fossils to explore adaptative correlates with oxygen levels across arthropod lineages through deep time.

This is a project funded by the Human Frontier Science Program (grant agreement no. RGY0056/2022). This is a multidisciplinary project in collaboration with Ana Belén Muñoz-García (University Federico II of Naples, Italy) and Javier Ortega-Hernández (Harvard University). We will be leading the genomics part of the project. Interested in joining the team? Will be hiring soon!

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Biodiversity Genomics Europe

The Biodiversity Genomics Europe (BGE) project has the overriding aim of accelerating the use of genomic science to enhance understanding of biodiversity, monitor biodiversity change, and guide interventions to address its decline. To support its delivery, BGE will bring together two newly formed networks: BIOSCAN Europe, which focuses on DNA barcoding, and the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA), which focuses on genome sequencing. As part of ERGA, our role in the project will be to coordinate sample collection across biodiversity hotspots.

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Genome evolution of cave invertebrates

We are interested in understanding how cave animals have reshaped their gene repertoires to adapt to their peculiar subterranean environments. So far, we are exploring how cave arthropods from different lineages have adapted to life in caves to illuminate the genomic basis of convergent evolution in this group of animals.