Universitetsparken 15, 2100 København Ø, Nord-fløj - Bygn.12, Building: 3-3-423
Primary fields of research
Molecular neurobiology and molecular endocrinology
My research interests are the molecular neurobiology, molecular endocrinology, and the functional and comparative genomics of invertebrates. As model systems I use two animal groups, namely cnidarians and insects.
I have chosen cnidarians, because they are the lowest animal group (phylum) with a nervous system, and because they are simple and can be used as model systems, e.g., by developmental biologists. Furthermore, cnidarians occupy a very basal position in the phylogenetic tree of animals (before the split of protostomes and deuterostomes). Cnidarians, therefore, are crucial for our understanding of the evolution of body plans and nervous systems. In cnidarians, we investigate the structure of neuropeptides, neuropeptide biosynthesis, neuropeptide receptors, and neuropeptide actions. This molecular and cellular work is basic for our understanding of the functioning of present-day cnidarians, but it also gives us insights in the evolution of the first nervous (and endocrine) systems.
Insects are the largest animal group on earth (75% of all animal species are insects). They are economically and ecologically extremely important, because most flowering plants depend on insects for their pollination. But insects can also be severe pests, destroying about 30% of our annual crop and be vectors (intermediate pathogen carriers) for serious diseases, such as malaria, sleeping sickness, Dengue fever, yellow fever, and elephantiasis. All this makes insects and the study of insects very important. At present, there are highly exciting developments occurring within the field of insect research, because the genomes from twenty-four insect species have recently been sequenced, or are in the process of being sequenced. Among these insect species are the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster; the malaria mosquitoAnopheles gambiae; the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti; the honey bee Apis mellifera; the silkworm Bombyx mori; and the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum. The genomic databases of these insects are goldmines, because they contain the information of all proteins and, thereby, of all biochemical and physiological processes that occur in an insect.
Of all proteins in insects, I am especially interested in neuropeptide receptors (which are G protein-coupled receptors) and their corresponding ligands, because these proteins (and peptides) play a central role in the physiology of insects, i.e., they occupy a high “hierarchic” position in the steering and coordination of important processes such as reproduction, development and behavior. Furthermore, G protein-coupled receptors are excellent drug targets and one of the possible applications of our basic research program might be the future development of a new specific and environmentally safe insecticide that acts selectively on a certain pest insect.
Our laboratory wants to identify and functionally characterize all major groups of neuropeptide receptors and their ligands in Drosophila and in some of the other insects with a sequenced genome. We expect that our program will drastically advance our understanding of insects, because it will give us a whole new view on insect endocrinology. The genomic sequence of each insect represents a window into insect evolution. Our project, therefore, will also give us a wealth of information on neuropeptide receptor evolution and receptor-ligand co-evolution.
Activities for scientific organisations
I am an elected member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters since 2000, and former secretary and president (1997-2003) of the Danish Biological Society (Biologisk Selskab) in Copenhagen. I am Center Director of the FNU-Center for Functional and Comparative Insect Genomics, University of Copenhagen, and Chairman of Cell and Neurobiology, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen. Furthermore, I am regular reviewer for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Bonn), Heisenberg Programm (Bonn), Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (Stuttgart), Human Frontier Science Program Organisation (Strasbourg), Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Den Haag), Biologisch Onderzoek Nederland (Den Haag), Stichting Levenswetenschappen (Den Haag), Fonds zur Föderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (Wien), Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (Prague), Czech Science Foundation (Prague), Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (Budapest), Belgian Ministry of Education (Brussels), Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Vlaanderen (Brussels), Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Brussels), The Wellcome Trust (London), Research Councils UK (London), Research Grants Council (Hong Kong), National Science Foundation of China (Peking), Foundation for Research Development (Pretoria), Thomson Reuters and Times Higher Education (Philadelphia), and Vanderbilt University (Nashville, USA). In addition, I am reviewer for a very large number of international scientific journals, among them PNAS and Science, and Reviewing Editor of Frontiers in Neuroendocrine Research.
Research and teaching output
Publications: 182 full papers. Invited lectures on international scientific meetings and institutions: 114. Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge citation-index: 7791x cited; H-index: 48. Google scholar citation index 9709 x cited; I-index: 54. Completed research supervision of 52 master students, 12 Ph.D. students, and 8 postdocs. I am teaching a high level course on molecular neurobiology (7½ ECTS) for about 100 students yearly, see: http://kurser.ku.dk/course/nbik14034u