William Smith

Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology


My laboratory focuses on morphogenetic mechanisms in the tunicate Ciona. Tunicates, such asCiona, are invertebrate marine chordates and the closest extant relatives of the vertebrates. All chordates share a common body plan which is comprised of a unique set of organs such as the notochord and the dorsal/hollow central nervous system. One important way in which tunicates differ from vertebrates is that they are much less complex. Tunicate larvae are typically composed of about 2,000 cells, and their organs and tissues typically contain only dozens to hundreds of cells. Tunicate genomes are also smaller and less complex than vertebrate genomes. The embryological simplicity of tunicates has allowed my research group to study developmental processes in a model with a fixed cell lineage, and in which inductive interactions often involve only a handful of cells. Current research focuses on the development of the Ciona notochord and CNS.