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The principal aim of our research is understanding the evolutionary origins of vertebrates. This major evolutionary transition gave rise to a revolutionary new body plan assembling a number of novel morphological features that probably helped the first vertebrates to conquer water, earth and air. We are interested in understanding the molecular basis of such morphological novelties and in a wider sense in the genetic code specifying particular cell types, organs and structures. To this aim we use as a model system the modern representative of this evolutionary transition, amphioxus. Its anatomy and genome is widely accepted to bridge the invertebrate and vertebrate worlds, providing a unique platform where to study morphological innovations, before they appear, at a molecular level.

Current research topics include:

  • Body plan evolution with special focus on the formation of the vertebrate head

  • Brain evolution

  • Connectomics and neuronal profiling

  • Small non-coding RNAs and their contributions to morphological evolution

  • Development of methods for amphioxus husbandry

Key Publications

Andrews TGR, Pönisch W, Paluch E, Steventon BJ, Benito-Gutierrez E. (2021). Single-cell morphometrics reveals ancestral principles of notochord development. Development. Aug 3:dev.199430. doi: 10.1242/dev.199430.

Benito-Gutiérrez E, Gattoni G, Stemmer M, Rohr SD, Schumacher LN, Tang J, Marconi A, Jekely G, Arendt D. (2021) The dorsoanterior brain of adult amphioxus shares similarities in expression profile and neuronal composition with the vertebrate telencephalon. BMC Biology. May 21;19(1):110. doi: 10.1186/s12915-021-01045-w.

Andrews TGR, Gattoni G, Busby L, Schwimmer MA, Benito-Gutierrez E. (2020) Hybridisation chain reaction for quantitative and multiplex imaging of gene expression in amphioxus embryos and adult tissues. Methods Mol Biol. 2020;2148:179-194. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-0623-0_11.

Zawisza-Álvarez M, Pérez-Calles C, Gattoni G, Garcia-Fernàndez J, Benito-Gutiérrez È*, Herrera-Úbeda C*. (2020) The ADAR Family in Amphioxus: RNA Editing and Conserved Orthologous Site Predictions. Genes Nov 30;11(12):1440. doi: 10.3390/genes11121440.

Marletaz F, Firbas P, Maeso I, Tena JJ, Bogdanovic O, Perry M, Wyatt CDR, Calle-Mustienes E, Bertrand E, Burguera D, Heeringen S, Jimenez-Gancedo S, Aldea D, Marquez Y, Buono L, Kozmikova I, Louis A, Permanyer J, Acemel RD, Albuixech-Crespo B, Le Petillon Y, Florian AL, Subirana L, Farahani E, Albalat R, Aury JM, Benito-Gutierrez E, et al. (2018) Amphioxus functional genomics and the evolution of vertebrate regulatory traits. Nature Dec;564(7734):64-70. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0734-6.



Contact Details

Group Leader

Dr Elia Benito-Gutiérrez

Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge
Downing St

01223  (7)63895

Group Members