April Hill – Genetics, Evolution, and Development
Ph.D. Human Genetics, University of Houston
Expertise: Developmental biology, evolution, genetics, genomics, gene regulatory networks,
host:microbe interaction, molecular biology, symbiosis
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
Selected Publications (*denotes student co-author)
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.
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.