Our group does research in the field of comparative genomics and animal evolution. Topics include: Molecular systematics of arthropods and birds, comparative mitochondrial genomics of Bilateria, comparative genomics of vertebrates and arthropods (evolution of gene families, gene order / exon-intron structure), Evolution of simplified morphology in parasites, evolution of tissue types. Teaching includes courses in the frame of master programme "Organismic biology, Evolutionary Biology and Palaeontology", e.g. Molecular Phylogenetics, Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics.


Which organisms?


    Current work focuses on mitochondrial genomes of Peracarida (isopods, amphipods and relatives), as well on comparative genomics of crustacea, especially the Cirrpedia


    We did work on mitogenomics of several "neglected" groups of Chelicerata, including Pycnogonida, Ricinulei, Amblypygi, Solifugae. Interrelationship of the chelicerate taxa is highly debated and far from settled. Thus, we try to establish mitochondrial genomes as phylogenetic markers for this group.


    Onychophorans are close relatives to arthropods, lacking many of the arrthropod characters. Therefore this group is very important for studying the evolution of the arthropod ground pattern


    One of the big groups supported by the "new animal phylogeny" Lophotrochozoa combines major taxa like molluscs, annelids, nemertines, brachiopods, platyhelminths and several minor phyla. Internal phylogeny of Lophotrochozoa is still not undisputed. Mitochondrial genome data, especially gene order features, may be of great benefit for resolving this question


    Bird phylogeny is still a major challenge for vertebrate systematics. We aim to combine mitochondrial genome data with other sources to resolve at least some of the problems of interordinal phylogeny of Neoaves


Mitochondrial genomes of Arthropods

Several projects on comparative mitochondrial genomics in arthropods discover e.g. the usefulness of gene order data in phylogenetics. Special focus lies on Arachnida and Isopoda, especially the latter taxon exhibits remarkable gene order rearrangements. Cooperation with C. Held (AWI Bremerhaven); S. Masta (Univ. Portland, USA); GDF Wilson (Australian Museum). These projects were funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG): DFG grants PO 765/2-1,2, PO 765/5-3, NaFöG

Mitochondrial genomes of Lophotrochozoa

From the "new animal phylogeny" the lophotrochozoan branch provides phylogenetic challenges. We use mitochondrial genome data to resolve some of the open questions, e.g. the position of Myzostomida, Nemertea and Sipuncula. Cooperation exists C. Bleidorn (Uni Leipzig); T. Struck (Uni Osnabrück), T. Stach (FU Berlin), T. Hankeln (Uni Mainz); X.- Bailly (Roscoff, France); T. Littlewood (NHM London, UK). ThIs project is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG): DFG grants BA 1520/10-1,2; PO 765/5-3.

Bird systematics

The phylogenetic relationships of bird orders and families, especially in the Neoaves is still one of the big challengs for systematic zoology. The radiation of Neoaves seemed to have occured in a short time period, having left only few traces of phylogenetic history, as well in morphology as in genome data. We use a combined approach of mitochondrial genomics and rare genomic events like retrotransposon insertion to get more clues. (in cooperation with Alexander Suh, Jürgen Schmitz, (both Uni. Münster), G. Mayr (Museum Senckenberg, Frankfurt)


Comparative Genomics

Simplified life?

Rhizocephala are a group of crustaceans with a parasitic lifestyle. Adults grow in the hemocoel of their crustacean hosts (crabs, hermit crabs), showing virtually no features of a typical arthropod. Only their larval stage (cyprid larva) show that they belong to Cirripedia, together with the sessile barnacles. Transkriptomics and genomics of Sacculina carcini, a crustacean parasite with highly aberrant morphology will give some insights about the simplification on the genomic level of an morphological simplified animal.

Arthropod immune system

The study of evolution of humoral and cellular immune response in arthropods is now possible on the genomic level. While there is much data on selected taxa like crayfish, Limulus and some insects, a good overview about evolution of gene families involved in arthropod immune response is still lacking. Our aim is to investigate the evolution of antimicrobial peptides and other factors in arthropods. Special focus lies on the emergence of "new" factors and "new" functions by co-option.

Extracellular matrix components and the evolution of tissue types

A crucial step for the differentiation of tissue types is the interaction between cells and their extracellular matrix. So the evolution of tissue types is highly correlated to the evolution of ECM genes. We have started a comparative analysis of ECM genes among arthropods, and are developing scenarios for the evolution of some important gene families. The impact of ECM genes on morphology of specialized tissue types will then be evaluated by descriptive as well experimental approaches