The sponge genome project and the evolution of multicellularity: using comparative genomics and developmental biology to reconstruct the first animals (2007–2009)
In 2005, I initiated a genome project on the most ancient animal lineage - the sponges. In a very successful collaboration with the US Department of Energy, over 1,500 Mbp of genomic sequence (>15x coverage) and 75 K developmental ESTs were procured. Characterisation of this genome, through bioinformatic, phylogenetic and gene expression studies proposed herein, will yield unprecedented insight into the molecular and cellular features that are fundamental to multicellular life. These processes (e.g. cell adhesion and movement; stem cell generation; body plan patterning) underlie normal and abnormal development in all animals, and the origin and evolution of animal biodiversity.