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Neurobiology of marine zooplankton

Gaspar Jekely

Gáspár Jékely

  • PhD at the Institute of Enzymology, Budapest, 1995-99
  • Postdoctoral training at the EMBL, Heidelberg, 2000-07
  • Max Planck research group leader at the MPI since 2007

Research Interest

Animal nervous systems evolved in a marine environment at the dawn of animal life, and diversified during the "Cambrian explosion", the relatively rapid appearance, around 540-530 million years ago, of representatives of most animal phyla. Remarkably little is known about early stages of the evolution of neuronal circuits and nervous systems. Simple marine planktonic organisms, in particular ciliated larvae of various marine invertebrates, can give us insights into how simple nervous circuits of marine organisms function and may have evolved.

Our group investigates the nervous system of ciliated animal larvae. We use a cultured marine annelid, Platynereis dumerilii, as our main model species, and several "satellite" species to give a comparative perspective to our investigations. Our objective is to understand the anatomy and function of neuronal circuits that regulate the planktonic migration of ciliated zooplankton larvae. We address this at various levels, using an integrative approach combining the fields of molecular biology, neurobiology, behavior, marine ecology and evolution. In our projects we try to link molecules to neuron types, neurons to larval behaviors and behaviors to marine ecology. Our aim is to obtain the first detailed systems-level understanding of the nervous system of a marine ciliated larva.

Selected Reading

1) Jékely G, Colombelli J, Hausen H, Guy K, Stelzer E, et al. (2008) Mechanism of phototaxis in marine zooplankton. Nature 456, 395-9.

2) Conzelmann M, Offenburger SL, Asadulina A, Keller T, et al. (2011) Neuropeptides regulate swimming depth of Platynereis larvae. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108, E1174-83.

3) Conzelmann M, Williams EA, Tunaru S, Randel N, Shahidi R, Asadulina A, Berger J, Offermanns S, Jékely G. (2013) Conserved MIP receptor-ligand pair regulates Platynereis larval settlement. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 110, 8224-8229.
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Scanning electron micrograph of a Platynereis larva. The larvae swim with the equatorial belt of cilia.
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Sensory neurons in the larval brain, like the eye photoreceptors labelled in red, directly innervate the ciliated cells and regulate ciliary beating.