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Research interests

My research interests lie in the field of jawless vertebrates. Some of the earliest ancestors of our vertebrate lineage can be found among these organisms, but there’s surprisingly little known about this group in terms of their biology and ecology or in terms of how they contributed to the development of key vertebrate features. In my previous research I’ve tried to understand the ecology of early jawless vertebrates, mainly conodonts and thelodonts, primarily using geochemical techniques. For my PhD project I’m now studying the evolutionary origin of teeth, a key vertebrate feature. Teeth are an important model system for understanding organ development, but they also play an important role in the evolutionary and ecological diversification of vertebrates in general. If we want to understand how teeth evolved, we have to look for answers in early jawless vertebrates. My project aims to answer fundamental questions about the evolutionary origin of these structures by taking two complementary approaches: studying the fossil record of extinct jawless vertebrates, but also genes in the teeth of living jawless vertebrates. I’m using synchrotron and computed tomography to shed light on the developmental biology of teeth and toothlike structures in fossil jawless vertebrates. Resulting models are also used to test hypotheses of the function of these toothlike structures with the help of computed fluid dynamic and finite element analyses. In addition, I aim to study tooth development in living jawless vertebrates and undertake transcriptomic analysis of replacement teeth focusing on genes known to control tooth development in living vertebrates to gain a more holistic understanding of the evolutionary origin of teeth.

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