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Research Fellows Directory

James Andrew Gillis

Dr James Andrew Gillis

Research Fellow


University of Cambridge

Research summary

The jawed vertebrate body plan is defined largely on the basis of two anatomical features - jaws and paired fins - and 19th century comparative anatomists proposed that both of these features were specialized members of a primitive series of gill arches. These hypotheses of 'transformational homology' were based on the presumed primitive skeletal anatomy of chondrichthyan fishes (e.g. sharks, skates and rays), and have had tremendous impact on the field of vertebrate evolutionary biology. However, these controversial hypotheses remain effectively untested, owing largely to a lack of molecular developmental data from chondrichthyans. My research addresses the molecular and cellular basis of jawed vertebrate skeletal development, and the evolution of jawed vertebrate skeletal systems, with a particular focus on chondrichthyan fishes. I am using comparative gene expression analyses and experimental embryological approaches to investigate and compare jaw, gill arch and paired fin skeletal patterning mechanisms in chondrichthyan embryos. My research program is bringing modern molecular developmental approaches to bear on century-old controversies in vertebrate evolutionary biology, and will yield insight into whether the similarities in skeletal organization shared by jaws, gill arches and paired fins reflect constraints imposed by shared developmental mechanisms (i.e. serial homology), or rather convergent evolution.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Gill arch serial homology and the origin of the jawed vertebrate body plan

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Nov 2014 - Nov 2019

Value: £449,548.06

Development and evolution of the vertebrate pharyngeal endoskeleton

Scheme: Newton International Fellowships

Dates: Aug 2009 - Aug 2011

Value: £101,000

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