Organisation profile

AMPHIBIAN EVOLUTION LAB (Prof. Franky Bossuyt) ABSTRACT: Research centers around the use of molecular phylogenetics to elucidate evolutionary patterns, and the processes that produce them, in amphibians. We are trying to understand the relationship between tempo and mode of evolution in relation to biogeography, speciation and morphological diversification. Our research also integrates this phylogenetic background with transcriptome and peptidome data to explore the evolution of pheromones and antimicrobial/anti-predatory skin peptides in various amphibians. Apart from providing an excellent model system for the study of adaptive evolution at a molecular scale, these molecules represent promising templates for novel bioactive compounds in various therapeutic applications. Identifying novel classes of amphibian skin peptides represents a major aspect of the European Research Council program TAPAS (Tracing Antimicrobial peptides and Pheromones in the Amphibian Skin). MAJOR RESEARCH THEMES: 1. Natural History and Evolution Research leader: Prof. Dr. Franky Bossuyt With over 7.000 species described worldwide, modern amphibian diversity exceeds those of songbirds and mammals. Yet, insights in biogeography, ecology, behavior, and reproduction are fragmentary for many amphibians, and fascinating discoveries are being made at a frequent pace. We explore amphibians using field observations as the primary means of bio-discovery: new species, fascinating behavior, adaptations in physiology. We use the strength of molecular phylogenetics to answer questions that go beyond traditional species phylogenies, but also include reconstruction of physiological, transcriptomic or proteomic data. We continue working on the biogeographical and macroevolutionary questions and hypotheses that arose by our research of the past decade. These are mostly related to the two areas that we have been focusing on in the past, the Indian subcontinent and the Pantepui area in South America. 2. Antimicrobial Peptides and Toxins Research leader: Dr. Kim Roelants Amphibians stand out among vertebrates by specialized skin glands that secrete a rich cocktail of bioactive molecules upon stress or injury. A major part of these molecules have been characterized as analogs of vertebrate hormones and metabolic proteins, and they are thought to act as defensive toxins, capable to interfere with various physiological pathways in a wide range of predators. A second part is composed of gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides that provide a first line of defense against infectious microorganisms, making up a key part of the innate immune system. Both types of molecules represent integrated parts of a sophisticated molecular defense weapon, whose study is highly lucrative for research fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, conservation biology, and pharmacology. We are using an integrative approach to identify and characterize novel antimicrobial peptides and toxins in the amphibian skin. 3. Behavioral Ecology Research leader: Dr. Ines Van Bocxlaer Salamanders (Urodela) have evolved diverse courtship and reproductive strategies, which are as variable as, for example, the male holding the female in amplexus, pheromone "vaccination" of the female by the male and underwater tail-waving of pheromones without physical contact. We recently developed a series of two-female experiments in Salamandridae, comparing behavior in male courtship water and control water and showed that male molecules emitted during tail-waving are courtship pheromones that can induce all typical features of natural female mating behavior, in particular the following behavior. We aim to understand how these salamander courtship and reproductive strategies evolved in function of pheromone evolution and vice versa. We combine behavioral assays with transcriptomic, proteomic, genomic and phylogenetic techniques to come to an integrative view on the evolution of courtship strategies. ---------------------------------- MARINE RESEARCH (Prof. M. Kochzius) under construction

Contact information

Pleinlaan 2
  • Fax: +32-2-6293403
  • Phone: +32-2-6293404

ID: 21695