Michael Akam is a zoologist who studies the evolution of developmental mechanisms — a field informally known as ‘evo–devo’ — and how changes in the form and function of organisms arise from changes in their development. Michael uses genetics to study animal diversity and has had a major influence on our understanding of the ‘Hox’ family of developmental regulatory genes.
Michael participated in the first isolation of Hox genes, which determine the structure that will form from each segment of an embryo. Hox genes control the growth of legs, antennae or wings in fruit flies, or vertebrae in humans, for example. Michael subsequently demonstrated that Hox genes are expressed from specific positions along an animal’s body.
As part of his work on arthropods — invertebrates with external skeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages — Michael co-ordinates a genome sequencing and annotation project for the Strigamia maritima centipede, in collaboration with the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center.