Cesar Arenas-Mena

Multipotency and Gene Regulatory Networks during Animal Development

We study the function and evolution of transcriptional multipotency and gene regulatory networks (GRNs) in sea urchins and polychaetes. We are deciphering the regulatory interactions that control gut development during embryogenesis and Hox cluster gene usage during postembryonic development in these indirect developers. The goal is to understand how GRNs work and how animal body plans evolve. We have also initiated the characterization of gene functions that establish transcriptional multipotency and their developmental control. Indirect development is mediated by microscopic feeding larvae that transform into macroscopic adults. Our results show a tight correlation of the expression of the histone variant H2A.Z with developmental multipotency during embryogenesis and larva to adult transformation. H2A.Z is associated with transcriptional regulatory DNA, where it promotes an open chromatin state accessible to sequence-specific transcription factors. We are testing a possible role of H2A.Z in maintaining transcriptional multipotency during development and we have initiated the study of the regulatory machinery that controls its expression. This project is relevant to developmental reprogramming in biomedicine and to understand metazoan origins.

I am currently recruiting Ph.D. students who wish to contribute to resolve these questions. If you are interested, please contact me. I am currently faculty member of the graduate programs in

Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behaviour


at the CUNY Graduate Center

(application deadline for Fall admission is January 1st).

I am also accepting highly motivated Master's and undergraduate students to work in research projects.