Universiteit Leiden

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Maurijn van der Zee

Assistant professor

Dr. M. van der Zee
+31 71 527 4885

Maurijn van der Zee is interested in the genetic and developmental basis of evolutionary changes (evo-devo).

More information about Maurijn van der Zee

Maurijn van der Zee is interested in the genetic and developmental basis of evolutionary changes (evo-devo). 

1. The function of the insect serosa

Insects are the most successful animal group on earth. In all insect eggs, a serosa covers the embryo completely. This membrane is not found in other arthropods and is thought to protect the embryo against hostile terrestrial conditions. This evolutionary innovation might have facilitated the success of insects on land, comparable to the invention of the amnion in amniote eggs. However, serosa-less beetle eggs hatch normally under laboratory conditions (Van der Zee et al., 2005). With RNAi against the gene zerknüllt1, I can delete the serosa and study the serosa-less beetle eggs under different conditions. In this way, the role of the serosa in desiccation resistance or immune defense can be studied. Interestingly, Drosophila does not posses a serosa, but only a small rudimentary amnioserosa. My research could reveal the selective pressures that drove the origin and loss of this evolutionary novelty.

2. Comparative genomics

By comparing the genomic sequence of extant organisms, one can infer genetic changes that have occurred in evolution. I have been involved in the annotation of the genome of the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. Excitingly, Tribolium shares several developmental genes with vertebrates, but not with Drosophila. Those genes must have been present in the ancestor of nearly all animals, but were lost in the Drosophila lineage, illustrating the peculiar mode of Drosophila development. I was also member of the Acyrthosiphon pisum (pea aphid) sequencing consortium. Besides winged males and females, aphids generate asexually reproducing females that have their clonally derived offspring within them. One of the interesting features of their genome is that it shows a three fold higher retention rate of gene duplicates than other insect genomes. It is tempting to speculate that - after duplication – the gene copies specialized on a function in one of the morphs (subfunctionalization), thus maintaining this high number of gene duplicates in the aphid genome. Currently, I am involved in the annotation of the genomes of the milkweed bug Oncopeltus fasciatus, the water strider Gerris buenoi and the western flower thrips Frankliniella occidentalis.

Assistant professor

  • Wiskunde en Natuurwetenschappen
  • Instituut Biologie Leiden
  • IBL Animal Sciences & Health

Work address

Institute of Biology Leiden
Sylviusweg 72
2333 BE Leiden
Room number 3.5.19



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