My research is on the role of hormones in the development and evolution of amphibians. I am interested specifically in their metamorphosis, which is a dramatic change in body form that is regulated by thyroid hormone (TH) and results in remarkable variation in skeletal anatomy.
The question of current interest is how do similar tissues in a frog skull respond to TH in different ways. One aspect of this project is to survey the mouth and throat skeleton of Xenopus laevis frogs at metamorphic stages to map out the patterns of cell proliferation and cell death in the different cartilages. A second is to transplant neural crest cells between frog embryos to form tadpoles with extra skeletal elements in new parts of the head, , e.g. a jaw cartilage in place of a gill arch cartilage, and then monitor how these cartilages respond to TH. A third aspect is to modify the pattern of Hox gene expression in one cartilage to transform its larval shape and then see whether its TH response has also been affected. The ultimate goal is to understand not only how TH responses are specified in frog cartilages but how these responses may be altered in evolution to produce different remodelling pathways in different species. The research techniques range from rearing amphibian larvae to osteological and morphometric analyses, in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, tissue grafting and cell injection.
I also teach and write about the role of popular culture and movies in biology education.
From Shelley to Crichton, The Movie Science of Resurrecting the Dead.
From Aristotle to Chuck Jones, the Popular History of Amphibians.