B.Sc.University of Victoria (1994)
Christopher B. Cameron
Associate professor, Départment de sciences biologiques
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"All things are one thing - plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again."
John Steinbeck on Ed Ricketts philosophy. From "The Log from the Sea of Cortez"
Research in the Cameron lab aims to understand the origin and evolution of animal body plan diversity. Aquatic environments, and especially the oceans, are home to the bulk of global animal diversity, and nowhere are body plans more divergent than among the invertebrate animals. This biodiversity is largely a result of the interplay between evolution, development and the fluid environment. For this reason, our research program uses a multidisciplinary approach including organismal and molecular biology, development, phylogenetics, transcriptomics, fluid mechanics and paleontology. We are broadly interested in the origins and evolution of animal biodiversity, and the deuterostomes, that evolutionary linage that includes hemichordates, echinoderms and our own phylum, the chordates, is where we make our greatest contributions.
The Origins of Extracellular Matrix Structures (EMS) in Deuterostomes
Presently we are evaluating three hypotheses on the origin of EMS in deuterostomes (Fig. 1). First, we are testing our hypothesis that chordate gills are a deuterostome plesiomorphic (ancestral) trait (Cameron et al. 2000), by characterizing acorn worm gill form, function and symmetry. Second, we are testing our hypothesis that the echinoderm skeleton is an ambulacrarian plesiomorphy (Cameron & Bishop 2012), by characterizing the calcium carbonate and protein composition of acorn worm ossicles, ossicle development and diversity. Third, based on our finding of Cambrian tubicolous acorn worms from the Burgess Shale (Caron, Conway Morris & Cameron 2013; Nanglu et al. 2016), we are testing the hypothesis that tubes are a hemichordate plesiomorphy. We are characterizing the composition of pterobranch tubes, the secretion of tubes by a living rhabdopleurid graptolite, and experimenting with the induced phenotypic plasticity of the colony structure (i.e., tubarium astogeny).
Fig. 1. Hypothesis on the origin & evolution of deuterostome gills, ambulacrarian ossicles, and hemichordate tubes (modified from Gee 2013, Nature).
Discovering Hemichordate Biodiversity
The second major research axis of our group is to discover and describe new species of Hemichordata. We are revising the taxonomy of the phylum and we have more than doubled the number of described species along the coasts of North America. Observations on their biogeography suggest that the hemichordates are an ancient and declining group, and that species loss in coastal waters has accelerated due to human activities. Parallel studies from Nick Holland (Scripps Institute of Oceanography), Karen Osborn (Smithsonian Institution) have demonstrated that many species are yet to be discovered from the largest habitat on earth, the deep sea. For the most up-to-date information on Hemichordates species see our Hemichordata Images, Checklist of Hemichordate Species, and Taxonomic Key to the Enteropneusta.
Fluid Biomechanics & Animal Body Plan Evolution
We are characterizing the interaction of animal body plans with the fluid enviroment using experimental, computational and numerical methods. This work is in collaboration with the fluid dynamic research group (École Polytechnique). Unlike most selective forces, the physical forces of fluid mechanics can be precisely quantified. In some cases, changing this pressure results in drastically divergent phenotypes. Using transcriptomics, we are characterizing the changes in gene expression during this alteration in developmental patterning. Ultimately we aim to tightly couple the selective force of fluid mechanics with developmental repatterning to shed light on animal body plan evolution.
Our research has been widely covered in the international press and links to some of the most recent articles are embedded below. If you are interested in pursing graduate studies or a postdoc in the Cameron lab, or just looking for more detailed information, please write.
Biologie 1953: Origine et diversité du vivant
Biologie 2431: Zoologie des invertébrés
Bio 2432: Stage invertébrés marins (Darling Marine Centre, Maine, mai, 2019)
Biologie 6965 Biodiversité: importance, menaces, solutions
Biologie 3293: Évolution et développement
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