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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

Benito-Gutiérrez E, Weber H, Bryant DV, Arendt D. Methods for generating year-round access to amphioxus in the laboratory. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 26;8(8):e71599. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071599. eCollection 2013.

Vopalensky P, Pergner J, Liegertova M, Benito-Gutierrez E, Arendt D, Kozmik Z. Molecular analysis of the amphioxus frontal eye unravels the evolutionary origin of the retina and pigment cells of the vertebrate eye. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 18;109(38):15383-8. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Benito-Gutiérrez E, Arendt D. CNS evolution: new insight from the mud. Curr Biol. 2009 Aug 11;19(15):R640-2. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.06.020.

Putnam NH, Butts T, Ferrier DE, Furlong RF, Hellsten U, Kawashima T, Robinson-Rechavi M, Shoguchi E, Terry A, Yu JK, Benito-Gutiérrez E, Dubchak I, Garcia-Fernàndez J, Gibson-Brown JJ, Grigoriev IV, Horton AC, de Jong PJ, Jurka J, Kapitonov VV, Kohara Y, Kuroki Y, Lindquist E, Lucas S, Osoegawa K, Pennacchio LA, Salamov AA, Satou Y, Sauka-Spengler T, Schmutz J, Shin-I T, Toyoda A, Bronner-Fraser M, Fujiyama A, Holland LZ, Holland PW, Satoh N, Rokhsar DS. The amphioxus genome and the evolution of the chordate karyotype. Nature. 2008 Jun 19;453(7198):1064-71. doi: 10.1038/nature06967.

Benito-Gutiérrez E. A gene catalogue of the amphioxus nervous system. Int J Biol Sci. 2006;2(3):149-60. Epub 2006 May 22.



Contact Details

Group Leader

Dr Elia Benito-Gutiérrez

Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge
Downing St

01223  (7)63895

Group Members