April L. Horton

Wagener Family Professor of Equity and Inclusion in STEM



Carnegie Science Hall, Room 410



Pronouns: she/her/hers

Ph.D. Human Genetics, University of Houston

Research interests
My research is focused on studying the evolution of conserved gene regulatory networks. In my lab, we are particularly interested in how changes to genomes and gene regulatory networks have led to the diversity of animal forms and functions. We use marine and freshwater sponges as model systems to ask questions about the genetics and development of animal evolution and symbioses. Sponges are ancient animals that retain characteristics of an early and successful experiment in multicellularity while also sharing some highly conserved features (e.g., stem cells) and molecular blueprints with all other animals, including humans. These unique features provide a system where we can explore hypotheses about the evolution of all animals.

Student Research Opportunities
Research projects in my lab focus on the role of conserved developmental control genes and gene regulatory networks that are uniquely animal, but may have originated prior to the advent of adaptations such as nervous and immune systems, muscles, or eyes. We also study gene networks and the molecular linkages between intracellular algal symbionts and sponges as we try to understand how the host:symbiont interaction is important for animal development and function.  Along these lines, some students also study the unique features of the symbiotic microalgae that inhabit sponge cells. We employ molecular, cellular, developmental, and functional genomic approaches and frequently collaborate with field biologists and computational scientists to address our questions. The research projects in my lab have implications for basic biomedical research as well as environmental and climate change studies.


Selected Publications

(*denotes student co-author)

C. Hall, S, Camilli, H. Dwaah, B. Kornegay, C. Lacy, M.S. Hill, A.L. Hill (2021) Freshwater sponge hosts and their green algae symbionts: a tractable model to understand intracellular symbiosis. PeerJ. 11:e10654. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10654

N.J. Kenny, W.R. Francis, R.E. Rivera-Vicéns, K. Jurval, A. de Mendoza, C. Díez-Vives, R. Lister, L. Bezares-Calderon, L. Grombacher, M. Roller, L.D. Barlow, S. Camilli*, J.F. Ryan, G. Wöheide, A.L. Hill, A. Riesgo, S.P. Leys (2020) Tracing animal genomic evolution with the chromosomal-level assembly of the freshwater sponge Ephydatia muelleri. Nature Communications. 11: 3676. https://rdcu.be/b5ROn

C. Hall, M. Rodriguez*, J. Garcia*, D. Posfai*, R. Dumez*, E. Wictor*, O. Quintero, M. Hill, A. Rivera, A. Hill (2019) Secreted frizzled related protein is a target of PaxB and plays a role in aquiferous system development in the freshwater sponge, Ephydatia muelleri. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0212005

O. Sacristán-Soriano, M. Winkler, P. Erwin, J. Weisz, O. Harriott, G. Heussler, E. Bauer, B. West Marsden*, A. Hill, M. Hill (2019) Ontogeny of symbiont community structure in two carotenoid-rich, viviparous marine sponges: comparison of microbiomes and analysis of culturable pigmented heterotrophic bacteria. Environmental Microbiology Reports.

P. Windsor-Reid, E. Matveev, A. McClymont, D. Posfai*, A. Hill, S.P. Leys (2018) Wnt signaling and polarity in freshwater  sponges. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 18:12.

J. Cramer, D. Pohlmann*, F. Gomez, L. Mark*, B. Kornegay*, C. Hall*, N. Walavalkar, S. Bilinovich, J. Prokop, A. Hill, D. Williams (2017) Methylation specific targeting of a chromatin remodeling complex from sponges to humans. Scientific Reports. 7:40674.

Q. Schenkelaars, O. Quintero, C. Hall*, L. Fierro-Constain, E. Renard, C. Borchiellini, A. Hill (2016) ROCK inhibition abolishes the establishment of the aquiferous system in Ephydatia muelleri (Porifera, Demospongiae). Developmental Biology. 412: 298-310.