Schematic phylogenetic tree of animals, highlighting sponges (Porifera)

Sponges (Porifera) are at the base of animal evolution; they are some of the first, metazoan (multicellular) animals. Sponges are also popular model organisms to study early traits of multicellular animals. One such trait is the presence of an epithelium, which helps define an 'inner' and an 'outer' side of a body or an organ.

In homoscleromorph sponges, we can find all features of a true epithelial structure, including adherens junctions, a basement membrane and cellular polarity.

Using bulk RNA-sequencing of disaggregation / reaggregation experiments in the homoschleromorph sponge Oscarella lobularis, as well as single-cell RNA sequencing of O. lobularis adult animals, as well as (asexually produced) buds, we aim to unravel the molecular structure of the sponge epithelial toolkit and thus, to take a closer look at the evolution of epithelia themselves.

We also currently work on an improved transcriptome of O. lobularis, as well as its complete genome sequence - assembled at contig level and sequenced with long-read sequencing (NanoPore) - hopefully coming soon.

This project is carried out in close collaboration with the labs of Andre le Bivic (IBDM) and Carole Borchiellini (IMBE), we are looking at the evolution of epithelia in these animals. The project is funded in part by CENTURI.