Arkhat Abzhanov

Arkhat Abzhanov's

My research group is interested in a variety of topics related to the vertebrate craniofacial (head) development, craniofacial genetic conditions in humans and craniofacial developmental evolution. We use morphometric, molecular, cellular and genetic approaches to study the precise mechanisms of cranial skeletal cell differentiation and skull/face morphogenesis in amniotes. The species we work with range from the laboratory "model" systems, such as chicken embryos and mouse mutants, to the "non-model" species used for evolutionary developmental studies, for example, Darwin's Finches and their relatives from Caribbean Islands, as well as other birds and, more recently, reptiles, both squamates (e.g. Anolis lizards), and archosaurs, such as alligators. This combination of laboratory "model" species with "non-model" species from natural environments allows us to address important conceptual questions, such as the roles of particular developmental genetic mechanisms (e.g. modularity) in evolution of adaptive variation and significant morphological transitions at both small and large evolutionary scales.

Generally, our studies on evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo) have a tripartite structure of the overall approach: 1) The first step is quantification of morphological variation using methods ranging from simply scoring the absence or presence of particular structures to 3D imaging and modeling; 2) The second component is identification of candidate genetic and developmental mechanisms using methods ranging from observations of the trait as it emerges in real time to quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping to microarray and RNAseq screens;3) The third part is functional assays of candidate genes/pathways to reveal the more causative relationships by methods ranging from physical manipulations to tissue and embryo transgenesis with molecular vectors.

Dr. Abzhanov is a Reader in Evolution and Developmental Genetics, Imperial College London, Life Sciences; and a Researcher, London Museum of Natural History, United Kingdom.

Arkhat and sea lion.jpg

Recent Publications

  1. A. Abzhanov (2013) von Baer's law for the ages: lost and found principles of developmental evolution. TRENDS IN GENETICS, 29 (12) : 712 - 722. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2013.09.004

  2. Mallarino, R., O. Campas, J. Fritz, K. J. Burns, M. P. Brenner, and A. Abzhanov (2012) "Closely related bird species demonstrate flexibility between beak morphology and underlying developmental programs".Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 109, 16222–16227. | PDF

  3. Mallarino, R.M. and Abzhanov, A. (2012) Paths Less Travelled: Evo-Devo Approaches to Investigating Animal Morphological Evolution. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology 28, 743-763. | PDF
  4. Bhullar, B., J. Marugán-Lobón, F. Racimo, G.S. Bever, M.A. Norell, T. B. Rowe and Abzhanov, A. (2012) Birds have paedomorphic dinosaur skulls. Nature 487, 223–226. | PDF
  5. T.J. Sanger, D. L. Mahler, A. Abzhanov and J. B. Losos. (2012). Roles for Modularity and Constraint in the Evolution of Cranial Diversity Among Anolis Lizards. Evolution 66, 1525-1542 (last authors contributed equally) | PDF
  6. R. Mallarino, A. Herrel, W. P. Kuo, B. R. Grant, P. R. Grant, and A. Abzhanov (2011) "Two developmental modules establish 3D beak-shape variation in Darwin's finches" – Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 108, 4057-4062. | PDF
  7. Mansfield, J.H. and Abzhanov, A. (2010) Hox expression in the American alligator and evolution of archosaurian axial patterning. JEZ Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution 314, 629-644 | PDF
  8. Campàs O, Mallarino R, Herrel A, Brenner MP and Abzhanov A, (2010) Scaling and shear transformations capture beak shape variation in Darwin’s finches. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 107, 3356-3360 | PDF
  9. Abzhanov A (2010) Introduction. Darwin’s Galapagos finches in modern evolutionary biology. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 1001-1007 (compiled and edited a special theme issue "'Darwin's Galápagos finches in modern biology") | PDF
  10. Clabaut C, Herrel A, Sanger T, Smith T, and Abzhanov, A (2009) Development of Beak Polymorphism in the African Seedcracker,Pyrenestes ostrinusEvolution & Development11, 636-646. | PDF
  11. Abzhanov, A. (2009) Darwin's finches. Analysis of beak morphological changes during evolution. In: CSH Protocols. Emerging model organisms, Vol. 1. pp. 481-500. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York.
  12. Abzhanov A, Extavour CG, Groover A, et al. (2008) Title: Are we there yet? Tracking the development of new model systems. Trends in Genetics 24, 353-360 | PDF
  13. Abzhanov, A., Rodda, S.J., McMahon, A.P., and Tabin C.J. (2007). Regulation of skeletogenic differentiation in cranial dermal bone.Development 134, 3133-3144. | PDF
  14. Abzhanov, A., Cordero, D.R., Sen, J., Tabin, C.J. and Helms, J.A. (2007) Cross- regulatory interactions between Fgf8 and Shh in the avian frontonasal prominence. Congenital Anomalies 47, 136-148. | PDF
  15. Abzhanov, A., Kuo, W.,P., Hartmann, C., Grant, R., Grant, P.R. and Tabin, C.J. (2006). The Calmodulin pathway and the evolution of elongated beak morphology in Darwin’s Finches. Nature 442, 563-567. | PDF
  16. Grant, P.R., Grant, B.R., and Abzhanov, A. (2006) A developing paradigm for the development of bird beaks. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 88, 17-23.
  17. Abzhanov, A., Protas, M., B. Grant, R., Grant, P.R. and Tabin, C.J. (2004).Bmp4 and Morphological Variation of Beaks in Darwin's Finches. Science,305, 1462-1465. | PDF
  18. Abzhanov, A., and Tabin,C.J. (2004). Shh and Fgf8 act synergistically to drive cartilage outgrowth during cranial development. Dev Biol. 273, 134-148. | PDF
  19. Abzhanov, A., Tzahor, E., Lassar, A.B. and Tabin, C.J. (2003) Dissimilar Regulation of Cell Differentiation in Mesencephalic (Cranial) and Sacral (Trunk) Neural Crest Cells. Development 130, 4567-4579. | PDF

Books and Book Chapters

  1. Scholtz G, Abzhanov A, Alwes F, Biffis C, Pint J (2009) Development, genes, and decapod evolution. In: Martin JW, Crandall KA, Felder DL (eds), Decapod Crustacean Phylogenetics, Taylor & Francis, CRC Press, Boca Raton.
  2. Abzhanov, A., and Kaufman, T.C. (2003) HOX Genes and Tagmatization of the Higher Crustacea (Malacostraca), In: Evolutionary Developmental Biology of Crustacea ( ed. Gerhard Scholtz), Balkema Publishers, Lisse

News Features

  1. Conciatore, J. for National Science Foundation. NSF researcher profile featured on LiveScience: "The Breadth, Depth and Power of Evolutionary Thinking Explored", October 4th (2012).
  2. Rauscher, E. "Oiseaux Ils Cacheraient L'enfance Perdue Des Dinosaures", Science & Vie, November 8th (2012).
  3. Perry, C. "Pecking order: In Birds' development, researchers find diversity by the peck", Harvard Gazette, September 24th (2012).
  4. "How Dinosaurs Became Birds" by Arkhat Abzhanov on Academic Minute Program on National Public Radio/WAMC, September 16th (2012).
  5. Fecht, S. "Baby Boom: Did Retained Juvenile Traits Help Birds Outlive
    Dinosaurs? Differences in developmental timing may have given birds their big
    eyes, big brains and smaller size", Scientific American, May 31st (2012).
  6. Recorded interview with Anjan Bhullar (Dr. Abzhanov's PhD student) on Nature Podcast about Bhullar et al., 2012 article in Nature, May 31st (2012).
  7. Gorman, J. "In Skull Analysis, Charting the Path From T. Rex to Falcon", The New York Times, May 31st (2012).
  8. Maugh, T.H. "Birds may be dinosaurs that never grew up", The Los Angeles Times, May 29th (2012).
  9. Mauguit, Q. "Évolution : les oiseaux sont-ils des dinosaures immatures?" Futura-
    Sciences (Spain), May 31st (2012).
  10. Blog: "LIKE A BIRD – Les oiseaux pourraient être des dinosaures qui n'ont jamais grandi", Le Monde (France), May 31st (2012).
  11. Marshall, M. "Birds got smart by becoming big babes", The New Scientist, May 28th (2012).
  12. Reuell, P. "Probing the sparrow's beastly past. Change in developmental timing was crucial in evolutionary shift from dinosaurs to birds, researchers find", Harvard Gazette, June 4th (2012).
  13. Jerry Coyne "Birds may be paedomorphic dinosaurs" in Blog Journal "Why
    Evolution is True"
  14. Gupta, S. "Reverse evolution: Chicken revisits its dinosaur past", The New
    Scientist, August 19th (2011).
  15. Collins, N. "Scientists reverse evolution with snouted chicken", The London
    Telegraph (UK), August 19th (2011).
  16. Lassagne, F. "Ainsi crée la nature: On a percé le secret de la diversité des formes du vivant" Science & Vie (France), February 7th (2011).
  17. Powel, A. "Bird, meet cousin alligator. Researcher probes key genes for clues to evolution from dinosaurs" Harvard University Gazette November 4th (2010).
  18. Petherick, A. "International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology: Beaks and beyond" The Great Beyond. The Nature blog that rounds up science from around the world. August 10th (2010).
  19. Williams, N. "Darwin's enduring finches" Current Biology 22, R130 (2010)
  20. Lehman, C. "Studying the Beaks of Darwin's Finches" The Harvard Crimson March 5th (2010)
  21. "Why Darwin's finches' beak shape varies?" The Hindu (India), February 25th (2010).
  22. Cipra, B. "Did Darwin's Finches Do Math?" ScienceNOW, February 17th (2010).

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