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Hormones do more than rage in the brains of teenagers. Hormones have a hand in every single action, conscious and unconscious, your body takes. In addition to having important roles in adults, hormones also have actions during development, and these actions contribute to the adult morphology, physiology, and susceptibility to disease.
To study the role of hormones in developmental actions we use frogs, specifically metamorphosis, as a model for vertebrate hormonal control of development. Metamorphosis is the process where an aquatic tadpole undergoes major changes to transition to terrestrial life (See video below). Birth in mammals, hatching in birds, and metamorphosis in frogs are all more similar than you think. All of these processes involve similar hormones and molecular mechanisms to coordinate the transition from an aquatic to terrestrial lifestyle.
To study the role that hormones have during development and in developmental processes, we produce genetically engineered frogs using transgenesis and gene disruption technology (CRISPR). We then examine the effects that these genetic changes have on developmental timing, organ maturation, and gene expression.
Two of the hormones that we focus on are thyroid hormone and stress hormone (frogs have an equivalent of cortisol which is the stress hormone found in humans). Hormones act through specific receptors in the different tissues of the body to enact many of the changes that are observed throughout development and in our case, metamorphosis.
Our work has revealed novel insights that modify and even overturn previous knowledge about how hormones work. Because changes in development underlie differences between species, knowledge about how hormones control development is an avenue towards revealing why species look the way they do and differ from each another.
Our lab focuses on basic scientific research to better understand the mechanisms of hormones in development. Our work provides fundamental information applicable not only to frogs but all vertebrates regarding hormonal control of development, potential for endocrine disruption, and the evolution of biodiversity.
Video courtesy: Alex Schreiber, St Lawrence University
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