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 form the sun... » (S. Leduc 1911, The Mechanisms of Life)
Since life appeared on the planet, light has indeed 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 to organisms able to perceive it to take advantage of an almost instantaneous source of information concerning their environnement. In addition, light from the sun is the 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 the 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? Echinoderms are one of the bilateria group for which photoreception mecanisms are the more enigmatic! Because of their slow-moving or sessile ways of life and the absence of clear-cut eyes, Echinoderms were originally considered as 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 this ability evolved in this specific lineage?
My work is performed in the Laboratory of Marine Organisms Biology and Biomimetics of the University of Mons (Belgium) and in 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.
Bioluminescence in marine organisms