About This Project
The vampire bat, with its big eyes and razor sharp incisors, is one of neotropic’s most iconic animals. A protein from its saliva, Draculin, acts as an anticoagulant and may one day be used as treatment for blood clots that starve the brain of oxygen during a stroke. With a vampire genome, we are now in an excellent position to understand and separate fact and fantasy in the evolution of vampires by sequencing and analyzing vampire RNA during development.
Ask the ScientistsJoin The Discussion
What is the context of this research?
I’ve studied mammalian development for the past seven years. When I began my doctoral work at Harvard University in 2012, I focused on Neotropical leaf-nosed bats, whose spectacular facial diversity evolved alongside specializations to diets that include insects, fruit, nectar, fish, meat, and even blood. There is no doubt these mammals are incredible and we know very little about how they evolved such a range of faces! We know how mammalian faces develop from comparative work on laboratory mouse strains, but we don’t know how nature has changed the developmental genetics across species.
What is the significance of this project?
The vampire bat has no other vertebrate equivalent. By characterizing gene expression across facial development, we can directly observe how one of the most fascinating and mysterious animals changes its face. This data will also be included in a larger dataset examining species-specific gene expression patterns in other Neotropical leaf-nosed bats, the most ecologically diverse group of mammals. By collecting and comparing transcriptomes from one anatomical region in different species across several equivalent time points, we can gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes a mammal face, and how changes in gene activity contribute to the evolution of vampires and other dietary specialists.
What are the goals of the project?
We will generate a high-quality reference transcriptome by alignment of reads to a reference genome. With the alignment, we will investigate facial development in vampire bats by mapping RNA sequence reads to the reference transcriptome. We will use the data to identify tissue specific gene expression patterns, gene expression during formation of specialized structures, and finally vampire-specific gene expression patterns.
The funds will be used to enhance the PhD thesis project on facial development in Neotropical leaf-nosed bats. The vampire bat is one of the many spectacular species of bats that have specialized facial morphology. The goal will be to produce a high-quality reference transcriptome for the vampire face. A reference transcriptome is necessary to capture all the gene readouts during the formation of the specialized and novel facial structures only observed in this mammal: the leaf-nose, infrared receptors, the razor blade incisors.
Meet the Team
I am inspired by the legacy of Darwin and Wallace, who were the first to bring the theory of natural selection to bear on questions of morphological diversity, and I am convinced that modern scientists have many contributions yet to make. It is this inheritance of ideas, this cultural and intellectual continuum, that I find motivating. Central to this vision is the research program I develop during my graduate years.
I am an embryologist, morphologist, and evolutionary biologist. I specialize in mammals and I use modern molecular techniques to understand developmental and evolutionary processes. I focus on the craniofacial skeleton and I am particularly interested in the faces of extreme mammals-- bats!
As a second generation Mexican-American, I am thrilled to bring my interests in skeletons into a comprehensive research program focusing on a key icons in Mesoamerican culture and mythology (bats of course!).
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EXTRA educational materials for becoming citizen scientists:
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+3D printed, resin, vampire skull (5:1 scale)!
($100 donation)-->Ceramic mug or pet dish (hand painted vampire bat)
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+Optional Skype outreach to your classroom. Optional classroom visits if local (Boston area or Monterey Bay, CA).
+Vampire bat coloring book!
+Print (5x7") of fluorescent data collected for project
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+ Research updates
+classroom activities/outreach activities
+cool bat facts!
+Dracula and vampire legend
+Mayan hero twins, and other bat mythology.
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