Evolution of early branching metazoans

Studying the molecular mechanisms governing the evolution of animals

Currently, our perception of animal is highly bilateral (all bilaterally symmetrical animals) biased. In order to gain broader perceptive on the evolution of animals, one must look into a wider range of extant species such as non-bilaterian animals that represent lineages that diverged more than 600 million years ago from the rest of the Metazoa. These include the phyla Porifera (sponges), Ctenophora (comb jellies), Placozoa (Trichoplax) and Cnidaria (sea anemones, corals, hydroids and jellyfish). Studying these animals can give researchers a new perspective about the evolution of animal.

Germline plays a unique role in gamete production, heredity and evolution. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms supporting germline is a major challenge in developmental and evolutionary biology. The origin of germline segregation and the establishment of the piRNA pathway in the germline is still a debatable question. Among metazoans, the Porifera, Ctenophora and Cnidaria (sea anemones, corals, hydroids and jellyfish) are the most basal diverged animal phyla originated nearly 600 million years ago. In Porifera, the border between the germline and somatic stem cells is narrow, as both are produced from pluripotent archaeocytes. In cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, the gametes are produced from a committed germline, similarly to bilaterian animals. In cnidarian animals, the piRNA pathway components are also expressed in the germline, however, their functional role in maintaining gametogenesis remained obscure.

We aim to investigate the functional role of the piRNAs in maintaining somatic and germ cells in Nematostella. From this study, we get insights into piRNA functional link in regeneration, development and reproduction of Nematostella.

Staff List

Vengamanaidu Modepalli

Dr Modepalli’s scientific goal is to understand the evolution of early animal life forms and its impact on current animal diversity. At the MBA he studies the genetic make-up of the starlet sea anemone (Nematostella vectensis).

Email: Telephone Number:
+44(0)1752 426486
  • A Soubigou, EG Ross, Y Touhami, N Chrismas, V Modepalli. 2020. Regeneration in sponge Sycon ciliatum mimics postlarval development. Development: dev.193714 https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.193714

  • A Fridrich, V Modepalli, M Lewandowska, R Aharoni, Y Moran. 2020. Unravelling the developmental and functional significance of an ancient Argonaute duplication. BioRxiv https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.04.933887

  • C Lefèvre, P Venkat, A Kumar, V Modepalli, KR Nicholas. 2019. Comparative analysis of milk microRNA in the therian lineage highlights the evolution of lactation. Reproduction, Fertility and Development 31 (7), 1266-1275 https://doi.org/10.1071/RD18199

  • Kevin R Nicholas, V Modepalli, A P Watt, L A Hinds, A Kumar, C Lefevre, J A Sharp. 2019. Guiding Development of the Neonate: Lessons from Mammalia., Human Milk: Composition, Clinical Benefits and Future Opportunities 90, 203-215 https://doi.org/10.1159/000490319

  • MY Sachkova, YY Columbus-Shenkar, A Fridrich, V Modepalli, K Sunagar, Y Moran. 2019. Starlet sea anemone venom: Dynamics across the life cycle., TOXICON-OXFORD- 158 (1), S37-S37 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxicon.2018.10.131

  • V Modepalli, A Kumar, J A Sharp, N R Saunders, K R Nicholas & C Lefèvre. 2018. Gene expression profiling of postnatal lung development in the marsupial gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) highlights conserved developmental pathways and specific characteristics during lung organogenesis. BMC Genomics 19(1): 732. 10.1186/s12864-018-5102-2 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-018-5102-2

  • V Modepalli, A Fridrich, M Agron, Y Moran. 2018. The methyltransferase HEN1 is required in Nematostella vectensis for microRNA and piRNA stability as well as larval metamorphosis. PLOS Genetics 14(8): e1007590. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1007590

  • Columbus-Shenkar, Y. Y., M. Y. Sachkova, J. Macrander, A. Fridrich, V. Modepalli, A. M. Reitzel, K. Sunagar and Y. Moran (2018). Dynamics of venom composition across a complex life cycle. eLife. 7: e35014.2. PMC5832418

  • Praher D, Zimmermann D, Genikhovich G, Columbus-Shenkar Y, Modepalli V, Aharoni R, Moran Y and Technau U (2017). Characterization of the piRNA pathway during development of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. RNA Biology. PMC5731801

  • Modepalli, V. and Y. Moran (2017). Evolution of miRNA tailing by 3′ terminal uridylyl transferases in Metazoa. Genome Biology and Evolution. evx106. PMC5509036.

  • Mauri, M., M. Kirchner, R. Aharoni, C. Ciolli Mattioli, D. van den Bruck, N. Gutkovitch, V. Modepalli, M. Selbach, Y. Moran and M. Chekulaeva (2016). Conservation of miRNA-mediated silencing mechanisms across 600 million years of animal evolution. Nucleic Acids Research. 45(2): 938-950. PMC5314787.

  • Modepalli, V., L. A. Hinds, J. A. Sharp, C. Lefevre and K. R. Nicholas (2016). Marsupial tammar wallaby delivers milk bioactives to altricial pouch young to support lung development. Mechanisms of Development. 142: 22-29. PMC51 61226.

  • Modepalli, V., L. A. Hinds, J. A. Sharp, C. Lefevre and K. R. Nicholas (2015). Role of marsupial tammar wallaby milk in lung maturation of pouch young. BMC Developmental Biology. 15: 16. PMC4377010.

  • Modepalli, V., A. Kumar, L. A. Hinds, J. A. Sharp, K. R. Nicholas and C. Lefevre (2014). Differential temporal expression of milk miRNA during the lactation cycle of the marsupial tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii). BMC Genomics. 15: 1012. PMC4247635.

  • Modepalli, V. N., A. L. Rodriguez, R. Li, S. Pavuluri, K. R. Nicholas, C. J. Barrow, D. R. Nisbet and R. J. Williams (2014). In vitro response to functionalized self-assembled peptide scaffolds for three-dimensional cell culture. Peptide Science. 102(2): 197-205. doi: 10.1002/bip.22469. PMID: 24488709

Book Chapters/Reviews

  • Sharp, J. A., S. Wanyonyi, V. Modepalli, A. Watt, S. Kuruppath, L. A. Hinds, A. Kumar, H. E. Abud, C. Lefevre and K. R. Nicholas (2017). The tammar wallaby: A marsupial model to examine the timed delivery and role of bioactives in milk. General and Comparative Endocrinology 244: 164-177. PMID: 27528357

  • Sharp, Julie A., V. Modepalli, Enjapoori, Ashwantha, Abud, Helen E., Lefevre, Christophe and Nicholas, Kevin R. 2016, Milk: milk of monotremes and marsupials. Reference module in food sciences, Elsevier, pp.1-10. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100596-5.00910-0.

  • Sharp, J. A., V. Modepalli, A. K. Enjapoori, S. Bisana, H. E. Abud, C. Lefevre and K. R. Nicholas (2014). Bioactive Functions of Milk Proteins: a Comparative Genomics Approach. Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia. 19(3-4): 289-302. PMID: 26115887

  • Julie A. Sharp, Ashalyn Watt, Swathi Bisana, Vengama Modepalli, Stephen Wanyonyi, Amit Kumar, Joly Kwek, Rod Collins, Christophe Lefèvre & Nicholas, KR 2014, The Comparative Genomics of Monotremes, Marsupials, and Pinnipeds: Models to Examine the Functions of Milk Proteins, Milk Proteins: From Expression to Food, Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. p. 75-112

Dr Vengamanaidu Modepalli

The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom,

The Laboratory, Citadel Hill,

Plymouth, Devon,UK.



Email: venmod@MBA.ac.uk