We are motivated by an important open question in animal evolution: how did the morphogenetic mechanisms of animal development first evolve? What was the morphology of the first multicellular precursors of animals, how was it established during development, and how did it evolve? We address these questions by studying choanoflagellates, the closest living relatives of animals, which bridge the gap between unicellular and multicellular lifestyles. Choanoflagellates have a polarized cell architecture – comparable to the one of epithelial cells – whose most conspicuous element is the collar complex, a ring of microvilli surrounding the apical flagellum. As a similar collar complex is found in the cells of sponges and other marine invertebrates, it has often been hypothesized to have been present in the single-celled ancestors of animals. Yet, this inference remains uncertain in the absence of detailed molecular knowledge on collar composition and morphogenesis. The successful candidate will characterize the composition, regulation, function and self-assembly of the choanoflagellate collar complex by a combination of omic approaches (RNA-seq, proteomics) and functional genetics (CRISPR/Cas9, transgenesis). This will yield fundamental insights both into the logic of single-cell morphogenesis and into the origin of animal cell architecture.
Applicants should hold (or expect shortly) a PhD in life sciences and have a background in cell biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, or biochemistry. Bioinformatic skills are not necessary but would be a plus. Prior experience working with choanoflagellates or other protists it not necessary.