Cassandra Extavour

Professor of Organsmic and Evolutionary Biology; and of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB)
Harvard University
16 Divinity Avenue
BioLabs Building 2081-2092
Cambridge, MA 02138

Phone: (617) 496 0983

Email: extavour@oeb.harvard.edu

Summary

Research in our lab is aimed at understanding the causes and consequences of evolutionary change in developmental processes. We are especially interested in those genes and developmental processes that direct cell fate specification in early embryogenesis. Our experimental work is primarily focused on the evolution and development of germ cells and reproductive systems in animals. Multicellularity evolved many times in eukaryotes, and in each instance, when cells of the multicellular aggregate first begin to adopt distinct fates, the first division of labor to arise is one that separates a reproductive lineage (the germ line) from a sterile lineage (the soma). A dedicated germ line is thus a profound novelty and critical feature of multicellular life. In sexually reproducing organisms, only the germ cells can contribute their genome to the next generation. Consequently, germ line specification and gonad function can have significant impacts on reproductive success and fitness.

In our germ line research, we to aim to understand the evolution of mechanisms that specify the animal germ line. In our somatic gonad research, we examine how the developmental and molecular mechanisms that control ovarian morphogenesis influence reproductive capacity, and how the evolution of these mechanisms may have been adaptive. Other projects in the lab include arthropod body plan evolution and improvement of genomic and functional genetic tools for use in non-model organisms. Click the links above to read more about these broad categories of research, or on the links below to find out about specific projects.