Eleanor Gilbert

Eleanor Gilbert


I studied for a BSc in Marine Biology and Oceanography and an MRes in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association. Here, I developed a strong interest in the evolution of early branching metazoans and the application of genetic and molecular approaches to understand evolution and developmental biology.

During my undergraduate degree I took a year out to pursue a 6-month placement at the Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology in Bergen, Norway. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Rentzsch group throughout my placement, who are interested in the evolution and development of the nervous system in the model sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. I am very privileged to have gained first-hand experience in advanced molecular techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9, which really developed my interest in molecular biology.

My Masters thesis used comparative proteomic approaches to look at the evolution of endosymbiosis in sea anemones, with a particular focus on the differences in the metabolic capacities of symbiotic and non-symbiotic species. I have enjoyed learning more about gene ontology and phylogeny during my Masters, and I am excited to combine my laboratory and bioinformatic skills during my PhD.

Eleanor Gilbert

Ecology and Biodiversity

Marine Biological Association of the UK

PhD title: Understanding the function of the apical organ in early branching metazoans

Many marine benthic invertebrates progress through a planktonic larval stage during their life cycle. This motile phase is crucial for early branching metazoans, particularly cnidarians (corals and anemones), to settle in favourable ecological niches as they possess a sessile adult life stage. The larval stage of many marine invertebrates is characterised by a ciliated tuft known as an apical organ. Apical organs are conserved sensory structures in cnidarians and bilaterians. They are well characterised in bilaterians and are thought to be involved in locomotion, settlement, and metamorphosis. .

Recent studies on the apical organ have compiled a list of developmental genes that are conserved from the basal cnidarian Nematostella vectensis to bilaterians such as Platynereis dumerilii and Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Combined with several behavioural studies demonstrating that marine larvae are capable of sensing external environmental cues, it is likely that the apical organ detects these stimuli and subsequently modulates larval behaviour. Despite its evolutionary and ecological significance, in-depth knowledge regarding the function of the apical organ in regulating cnidarian larvae behaviour is lacking.

The overarching aim of my PhD is to address the function of the apical organ in the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis by identifying novel transcriptional signatures and cells associated with this sensory structure to understand the signalling pathways that modulate larval settlement in cnidarians.

I volunteered as a Front of House Host at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth from May-August 2017. The role included interacting with the public across a wide range of age groups and backgrounds with the aim of promoting species conservation through engagement. The role also included working as part of a larger team, representing the aquarium and maintaining a professional persona, and giving talks about certain species or exhibits.


University of Plymouth Dean’s List 2015-2016