Thomsen Lab

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Thomsen Lab Research

General Research Interests

My research seeks to understand the basic principles of how vertebrate embryos develop. Understanding embryonic development is of fundamental importance to general biological knowledge and to medicine. Many basic principles of biochemistry and cellular biology have been revealed by embryology, and very often these principles have proven relevant to understanding the mechanisms of disease. The causes of a variety of birth defects, which are obviously of embryonic origin, have been uncovered through the study of “model” animals such as mice, flies, worms and frogs. The molecular origins of diseases such as cancer, which is characterized by uncontrolled growth and abnormal differentiation, are also much better understood today through the efforts of molecular embryology.


Research Projects

Amphibian Development

Xenopus photo

We study molecular mechanisms of animal development, with primary emphasis on cell fate specification and pattern formation by inductive (cell-to-cell) signaling. We use the frogs Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis in our investigations, and our broad focus is on regulation of early development by the two principal branches of TGFβ signaling pathways: Vg1/nodal/activin and BMP. Present efforts seek to identify and understand the biochemical and embryonic functions of modulators of TGFβ signal transduction, such as Smad-interacting factors and ubiquitin ligases. We also study the more general question of how ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation regulates early development. Our basic experimental approach is to study the effects of gain and loss of function in embryos and cultured cells, on gene candidates selected from our own protein-protein interaction (PPI) screens, as well as PPI and differential expression information from systems biology studies. We also select candidate genes based on potential functions revealed in other animal systems.

  • Traf4
  • Smurfs
  • Smads
Lab Members working on These Projects: Jerry, Yasuno, Bill, Lidia, Youngja, Francesca, Dong, and Gina,


Anemone Development and Regeneration

Anemone photo

While Xenopus has been the traditional study organism in the lab, our scope is expanding to include studies of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Sea anemones belong to the phylum Cnidaria, which also includes corals, jellyfish and hydroids (e.g. Hydra). We are interested in sea anemones because they are an ancient group among the metazoa and are considered “basal” to nearly all other animals except sponges and ctenophores. The last time cnidarians and vertebrates shared a common ancestor was about 700 million years ago. Therefore, by comparing the developmental programs of frog and sea anemone embryos we will gain new insights into the evolution and deployment of genetic and biochemical pathways that govern development. Furthermore, sea anemones and frogs can regenerate missing parts, and sea anemones in particular are robust regenerators. We have begun to study fundamental aspects of sea anemone regeneration and will compare our findings with findings made with other regenerating model systems, such as limbs, organs or specific cell types (including stem cells). These comparisons will help reveal principals that are common, as well as unique, to different regeneration situations.

  • Transcriptome of regenerating N. vectensis
  • Contribution of signaling pathway members to N. vectensis regeneration
Lab Members working on This Project: Jerry, Pat, Bill, Lidia, Matt, and Gina,

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