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Current Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Arkhat AbzhanovArhat Abzhanov




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I am a junior faculty member interested in a variety of topics related to vertebrate craniofacial development, evolution and disease. My research group is using morphometric, molecular, cellular, and developmental genetics methods to study how cranial cells undergo skeletal differentiation, and how cranial skeleton changes in evolution and can be affected by human congenital diseases.


I received my PhD from Indiana University with Dr. Thomas Kaufman, where I demonstrated specific roles of HOX genes during adult head development of Drosophila melanogaster and studied HOX, segmentation and appendage patterning genes in many other arthropod lineages producing many interesting insights into the evolution of arthropod body plans.  During postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School with Dr. Clifford Tabin, I focused on craniofacial development in vertebrate animals. My "model" system projects on craniofacial development in mouse and chicken embryos ranged from early patterning and differentiation of cranial neural crest to formation of the cranial dermal bone skeleton. For example, I established roles of several major signaling molecules in cranial skeletal cell differentiation and morphogenesis both in vitro and in vivo, results illustrated in “Developmental Biology” textbook by Dr. Scott Gilbert (Swarthmore College).  I also investigated genetic mechanisms responsible for the variation in beak shapes of Darwin’s Finches, a classical example of adaptive radiation. “Candidate genes” and microarray approaches combined with functional tests revealed roles for specific genes in beak morphological evolution. My publications on Darwin’s Finches were included in the "Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2006" by Science magazine and declared as one of the “15 Evolutionary Gems” of the last decade by journal Nature in 2010. More recently, my group uncovered the role of heterochrony (change in timing of developmental events) in the large-scale evolution of avian skulls from their dinosaur reptilian ancestors.  The most significant results from my publications on mechanisms of craniofacial development and evolution have been featured in multiple college-level textbooks, and in many scientific and popular TV and newspaper media around the world.