Dennis Sun


The Homeotic/Hox family of genes helps determine the identity of segments and associated appendages along the anterior-posterior (AP) axis in diverse animal species. Changes to the timing and location of Hox gene expression can create remarkable changes in an animal’s body plan. I plan to explore how the Hox genes have evolved across the diverse body plans of crustaceans. Our lab has previously investigated the function of Hoxgenes in the amphipod crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis. Using CRISPR-Cas9 mutagenesis targeting the Parhyale Hox genes, we identified homeotic transformations that reveal the role of each gene in patterning the Parhyale body plan. By examining the expression patterns and functions of Hox genes in other crustaceans, one can investigate how new body plans can evolve. For example, in decapod and isopod crustaceans, the Hoxgene abd-A is expressed in a different set of segments than in Parhyale; this change in expression correlates with a change in the body plan. In my time in the Patel Lab, I will knock out the Hox genes of the decapod crustacean Neocaridina davidi, also known as the “cherry shrimp”, and the isopod crustacean Asellus aquaticus, in order to evaluate the role of Hox genes in body plan organization in each species. Moreover, I will employ modern genetic and genomic approaches to study the regulation of Hox gene expression in Parhyale. This work will help reveal how the Hox genes have changed over time to produce new body plans.


I was born in Rochester, MN and raised in San Diego, CA. I completed my A.B. in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Harvard College, where I also minored in English and Japanese. During my studies, I worked at Life Technologies (Carlsbad, CA), the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA; Kyoto University, Japan), and did my senior thesis work in Paola Arlotta’s lab (Harvard) on the interface of regeneration and cancer in the axolotl brain.

In general, I am interested in understanding how diverse biological functions and forms evolve from across clades. In particular, I am interested in the evolution of cis-regulation. To address these questions, I use techniques from genetics, developmental biology, bioinformatics, and functional genomics.

In my free time, I enjoy fitness, literature, video games, cooking, baking, and alcohol.


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