8 June 2021 – Circadian clocks help animals to stay in sync with the Earth’s solar cycle, but the biology of many organisms is also influenced by other cues such as the changing of the seasons, the tides of the sea, and the phases of the moon. New EMBO Member Kristin Tessmar-Raible wants to understand how animal behaviour and physiology are affected by these phenomena. “Many marine organisms, from brown algae to corals to clown fish, coordinate their reproduction with the lunar cycle,” says Tessmar-Raible, who is a group leader at the Max Perutz Laboratories in Vienna, Austria. “Our goal is to learn more about the molecular calendars that control these rhythms.”
We want to answer questions such as: How do animal nervous systems sense moonlight? How are animals’ lives influenced by their endogenous clocks?
Uniting fields such as neuroscience and evolutionary, molecular, and marine biology, Tessmar-Raible’s team have shone a light on the natural cycles of organisms that are in sync with lunar phases, such as the bristle worm Platynereis Dumerilii and the intertidal midge Clunio marinus. “We want to answer questions such as: How do animal nervous systems sense moonlight? How are animals’ lives influenced by their endogenous clocks? How can nature maintain a monthly oscillation?” she says. Her group has uncovered a wide-range of mysteries, from the roles of sensory and secretory neural cells to the cross-talks between different natural cycles. The work could also contribute to our understanding of broader puzzles. “Due to human impacts, the cycles of marine species such as corals are becoming asynchronous, reducing successful fertilization and even threatening ecosystems,” she says. “Understanding what is going on would give us a better chance of addressing the threat.”
The EMBO communities present terrific opportunities for scientific interactions.
“We have many puzzle pieces and we want to put them together,” continues Tessmar-Raible, a former EMBO Young Investigator. “The EMBO communities present terrific opportunities for scientific interactions – it is a certain type of spirit that people share, very science-driven, and open for invigorating intellectual discussions. EMBO also provides invaluable support for scientists organizing or attending conferences – I have benefitted personally from the childcare grant support. I am honoured to become an EMBO Member, and I hope to inspire colleagues young and old to go off the beaten path, as well as spreading the joy of science to the public – it’s a very cool profession!”