Anne Warner Fellowship Supports Research into the Evolution of Early Branching Metazoans

In October 2018, a new Research Fellow Dr Vengamanaidu (Venky) Modepalli arrived at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) with a goal to understand the evolution of early life forms at the molecular and genomic level and its impact on current animal diversity. Over the past years, Venky’s research has been supported by the Anne Warner Research Fellowship, established following a substantial legacy being bequeathed to the MBA by eminent scientist Professor Anne Warner in 2012. Following a recent memoir published by the Royal Society, we’re taking a look at Anne’s ongoing contributions to research at the MBA.

Anne Warner was Professor of Anatomy and Embryology at University College London and a former Foulerton Professor of the Royal Society. She had a long and close association with the MBA laboratory in Plymouth, where she carried out research and established a series of internationally-renowned research workshops in cell biology, which continue to be held today. Anne was responsible for a number of key discoveries in embryology, and established a number of techniques which are still in use in the current day in many fields. 

Anne recognised the importance of marine biological research broadly, and specifically work in cell and molecular biology – bringing a deeper understanding to fundamental evolutionary questions. The Anne Warner Fellowship brings in new researchers based on academic-merit, and is open to applicants from across the globe. Providing funding for 5 years, this Fellowship gives significant time for development, and has allowed Venky to establish the Modepalli lab at the MBA.

Venky’s research is focused on early branching metazoans – non-bilaterian animals (such as sponges, jellyfishes, and stony corals) which evolved before the bilaterian animals. These model organisms can be used to address some key questions into the origin and evolution of bilaterians, diverging more than 600 million years ago from the rest of the Metazoa (animals). Here at the MBA, Venky’s research group uses these model organisms to study things like how the nervous system works in cnidarians (sea anemones, corals, hydroids and jellyfish), enabling us to understand how more complex evolution of nervous systems occurred in other animals.