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Project BiolumExtraPhot

Deciphering the functional link between Bioluminescence and Extraocular Photoreception in marine invertebrates to unveil a possible convergent evolution

We study the potential interaction between extraocular photoreception and bioluminescence in marine invertebrates, focusing on a luminous sea pen and a brittle star as phylogenetically distant model species sharing the same ecological environment and similar luminous systems. By examining various biological levels, from behavior to molecular processes, we seek to understand the potential convergent evolution of this novel control mechanism in marine invertebrates, offering valuable insights into the interplay between light perception and bioluminescence...

Project supervisors: Prof. Jérôme Mallefet (UCL), Prof. Patrick Flammang (UMONS); PDR Project F.R.S.-FNRS

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Sea cucumber Protectobiome

The protectobiome of sea cucumbers: a deeper analysis of the roles and interactions of coelomocytes and microbiotes in Holothuria scabra’s homeostasis

In holothuroids, three circulatory systems facilitate the distribution of molecules and cells throughout the body: the perivisceral coelomic cavity, the ambulacral system, and the hemal system. The main circulating cells are immune cells known as coelomocytes, which coexist with bacteria in large numbers, raising questions about their cohabitation. This research aims to understand the roles and interactions of coelomocytes and microbiota in maintaining the homeostasis of the model sea cucumber, Holothuria scabra. The hypothesis posits that these components collectively form a protectobiome, contributing to the organism's health. The project leverages expertise from marine biology, immunology, and microbiology, focusing on H. scabra due to its well-known biology and commercial significance.

Project supervisors: Prof. Fabrice Bureau (ULiège), Prof. Igor Eekchaut (UMONS); PDR Project F.R.S.-FNRS

Evolution of Opsin-based Photoreception in Metazoans

Life, as we know it on Earth, is dependent on solar electromagnetic radiation...« The  whole of energy which animates living beings, the whole of the energy which constitutes life, comes from the sun... » (S. Leduc 1911, The Mechanisms of Life)

Since life appeared on the planet, light has been one of the most important selective evolutionary forces for living organisms (Land and Fernald 1992). Most of the organisms respond in some way to light; they orient, move, swim, or fly to or away from the light… (Wolken 1995). Light goes straight and fast which would permit organisms able to perceive it to take advantage of an almost instantaneous source of information concerning their environment. In addition, light from the sun is an accurate signal for animals to recognize the time and season. For all these reasons, animals and living organisms in general have evolved to adapt to their light environment. Some authors even considered that vision is so important for many organisms that eye emergence was inevitable (Hendler 2004)!

Vision is essential for human beings. “Seeing is believing” is a common saying that directly expresses that most of the information we receive from the environment is visual but what about echinoderms, our far cousins? Because of their slow-moving or sessile ways of life and the absence of clear-cut eyes, Echinoderms were originally considered poorly equipped with sensory organs. However, many echinoderms from the intertidal zone or the euphotic area are known to be highly light-sensitive... 


My research focused on the understanding of extraocular photoreception in metazoans with a particular emphasis on echinoderms. How did this ability evolve within this particular lineage?


My work is performed in the Laboratory of Marine Organisms Biology and Biomimetics of the University of Mons (Belgium) and the Marine Biology Laboratory of the University of Louvain-La-Neuve (Belgium).

Neuropeptide Evolution in Metazoans

Neuropeptides are small peptidic molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other. Those neuronal signaling molecules are legion in metazoans and they regulate numerous biological processes from development to social interactions. I am interested in the understanding of the neuropeptide evolution in echinoderms and metazoans in general with a particular emphasis on the elucidation of the biologically relevant functions of these molecular actors. I performed a postdoc at QMUL focusing on the understanding of various neuropeptide-signaling systems in the common starfish, Asterias rubens, taken as a model species. Using a large panel of investigation methods (including bioinformatics, molecular biology, histology, cell biology, physiology, …), my work focused on the characterization of several vertebrate-like neuropeptides (e.g. CCK, Luqin, Orexin,...) known as critical regulators of feeding, reproduction, etc.

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