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Michael Thorndyke


Mike Thorndyke was formally at Royal Holloway, University of London where he was Director of Research in Biological Sciences. He was appointed as Director and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Distinguished Research Chair in Experimental Marine Biology at Kristineberg Marine Research Station in 2002. This has recently been re-named “The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences- Kristineberg. He is now “Head of International Development at the Sven Lovén Centre University of Göteborg” and an adjunct Professor in Marine Ecology.

Mike has become a leading international figure in marine infrastructure development and the development of research in climate change and ocean acidification. He is a member of the International Advisory Board of Bioacid; Coordinator of ASSEMBLE; and EuroMarine, a pan-European network that will integrate the former Marine Networks of Excellence: Marine Genomics Europe; MarBEF and EurOceans; President of MARS, the European Network of Marine Research Stations and Insitutes; member of the steering committee for EMBRC. He is also a member of EPOCA, the European project on ocean acidification and the ESF working group on ocean acidification.

Mike represents Sweden on ESF Marine Board.


For many years Mike has investigated the cellular, molecular and genetic bases of development and adult regeneration in tunicates and echinoderms and has been responsible for the characterisation of new genes and gene networks that regulate both larval development and adult regeneration.

Recently attention has been focused on the critical issue of climate change and ocean acidification where these molecular tools have been instrumental in revealing new avenues for analysis and understanding.

Together with Sam Dupont (coordinator of the Sven Lovén Ocean Acidification facility) he has developed a high profile research programme that employs a range of interdisciplinary techniques to explore the impact of climate change, and in particular ocean acidification (OA) on life history events in marine invertebrates.

Development, Regeneration & Stem Cell Biology

Adult vertebrates, particularly mammals show a very limited capacity for replacement of mature tissues following trauma or disease.

In dramatic contrast to this, both tunicates and echinoderms exhibit a remarkable plasticity as adults and are capable of extensive regeneration of large parts of their bodies following traumatic loss or damage.

A central question here then is: what is the nature of the molecular regulatory pathways that facilitate this remarkable ability? Of particularly interest are questions regarding the presence and role of stem cells, especially neural stem cells. Given that these animals are closely related to vertebrates and share many genetic pathways with them (and thus with mammals, including man), it becomes a fascinating question to ask why can adult tunicates and echinoderms regenerate extensive parts of their anatomy, while most adult vertebrates and certainly mammals, cannot.

Key questions that our group is addressing include:

  • Are similar genetic pathways for neurogenesis employed in adult regeneration as are used in normal embryonic, larval and adult development?
  • Does it involve embryonic stem cells that are conserved or re-instated in adults?
  • Does it involve re-programming of existing adult stem cell lineages, for example the haematopoietic lineage?
  • What is the adaptive value of the diverse patterns of adult regeneration and how are they regulated by environmental change and variation?

Our work is beginning to show that modifications and plasticity in the normal stress response might underlie many regenerative phenomena and that a combination of migratory adult stem cells and de-differentiation of adult cells are prime candidates in this process. Furthermore, we have recently shown that predicted environmental changes are likely to impact adult regeneration and thus individual/population resilience.

In parallel with this we use a range of molecular, cellular and ecophysiological tools to investigate the fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms of development, cell lineage regulation and morphometrics in echinoderm embryonic and larval development. This has involved long term collaborations with the Eric Davidson Lab (Caltech); Robert Burke (Victoria) and Greg Wray (Duke).

Figs. Larval Development in the brittlestar Amphiura filiformis showing the complete nervous system (green) and specific serotonergic neurones (red). From Dupont et.al. 2009.

Climate Change and Ocean Acidification

As a consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2, the world’s oceans are slowly becoming more acidic (ocean acidification “OA”) and profound changes in marine ecosystems are certain. Alarmingly little is known about the long term impact of predicted climate changes (both ocean acidification and global warming) on marine invertebrate in general and larval development in particular and available data reveal contradictory results and apparent paradoxes. Perhaps one of the key marine groups most likely to be impacted by predicted OA are the echinoderms. Echinoderms are a vital component of the marine environment with representatives in virtually every ecosystem; where they are often keystone ecosystem engineers. In addition, many are indirect developers (e.g. urchins, brittlestars) where both larva and adult have critical (and quite different) episodes of skeletogenic calcification. In contrast others (Asteroids) exhibit adult but not larval skeletogenesis. In this way echinoderms offer a valuable and tractable experimental system for exploring the impacts of OA on marine biota. We use a multidisciplinary approach with molecular, genetic, physiological and developmental tools to understand species-specific responses in closely related taxa and solve apparent paradoxes (e.g. positive impacts in notionally at risk species such as calcifying sea urchins). We have used our CO2 – based sea water acidification system to investigate the affects of near future ocean acidification and temperature increases on early developmental success in four brittlestars (Amphiura filiformis, Ophiocomina nigra, Ophiothrix fragilis, Ophiura albida), one seastar (Asterias rubens) and five sea urchin species (Brysopsis lyrifera, Echinus esculentum, Paracentrotus lividus, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis and S. purpuratus). Our results show that impact of OA on early life-history (1) is not easy to predict and appears to be species-specific, even in closely related taxa (e.g. sea urchins), (2) can be dramatic (e.g. the brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis showing 100% mortality after 8 days in pH expected in 50 years), (3) can also have positive effects (e.g. increase metamorphosis success in several species of sea urchin), (4) is not only a calcification issue and that more physiological studies are needed and, (5) analyses in synergy with other environmental parameters (e.g. temperature) is vital. This work involves long-term collaborations with Greg Wray and Frank Melzner as well as Jim Barry at MBARI for technology developments in OA.

Figs. Amphiura filiformis in transmitted light (top) and polarized light (bottom) showing skeletal rods (green in polarized light).

Figs. Amphiura filiformis: affects of low pH exposure during development.

Publications 2005-2009 

Bannister, R.  I. M. McGonnell, A. Graham, M. C. THORNDYKE and P. W. Beesley 2005 Afuni, a novel Transforming Growth Factor- gene is involved in arm regeneration by the brittle star Amphiura filiformis. Dev.Genes Evol. 215: 392-401.

Wilson K, THORNDYKE M.C., Nilsen F., Rogers A., and Martinez P 2005 Marine Systems: Moving into the Genomics era. Marine Ecology 26: 3-16. This article was selected for special mention by editors as signalling the future direction of research in this area!!

Rosenberg R, Dupont S, Lundvalv T, Nilsson Skold H, Norkko A, Roth J, Stach T & THORNDYKE M 2005. Biology of the basket star Gorgonocephalus caputmedusae Mar. Biol. 148: 43-50.

S. Piscopo, R. De Stefano, M.C.THORNDYKE & E.R.Brown 2005 Alteration and recovery of appetitive behaviour following nerve section in the starfish (Asterias rubens) Behav. Brain Res. 164: 36-41.

Stach T., Dupont S., Israelsson O., Fauville G., Nakano H., Kånneby T. And THORNDYKE M. 2005 Nerve cells of Xenoturbella bocki (phylum uncertain) and Harrimania kupfferi (Enteropneusta) are positively immunoreactive to antibodies raised against echinoderm neuropeptides. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K. 85: 1519-1524

Elphick M. R. & THORNDYKE M.C. 2005 Molecular characterisation of SALMFamide neuropeptides in sea urchins. J.exp. Biol.208: 4273-4282

Olinski R.P., Dahlberg C., THORNDYKE M and Hallböök F. 2006 Three insulin-relaxin-like genes in Ciona intestinalis. Peptides 27: 2535-2546.

Hallböök F., Wilson K., THORNDYKE M., and Olinski R.P. 2006 Formation and evolution of the chordate neurotrophin and Trk receptor genes. Brain Behav. Evol. 68: 133-144.

Zega, G., THORNDYKE, M.C. Brown, E.R. 2006 Development of swimming behaviour in the larva of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. J. exp. Biol. 209:3405-3412.

Dupont S & THORNDYKE M 2006 Growth or differentiation? Adaptative regeneration in the brittlestar Amphiura filiformis (Echinodermata). J. exp. Biol. 209: 3873-3881.

Bourlat, S., Juliusdottir, T., Lowe, C., Freeman, R., Aronowicz J., Kirschner, M.,., Lander, E., THORNDYKE, M., Nakano, H., Kohn, A.,  Heyland, A., Moroz, L., Copley, R., Telford, M. 2006 Deuterostome phylogeny reveals monophyletic chordates and the new phylum Xenoturbellida. Nature 444: 85-88.

THORNDYKE M.C. (as a member of the Sea Urchin Genome Sequencing Consortium) 2006 The Genome of the Sea Urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Science 314: 941-953.

Burke, R.D, Humphrey, G. W., Yaguchi, S. Rowe, M., Wilson, Olinski, R., Hallböök, F., K.,.Liang, S., Kiyama, T., Mu, X., Murray, G,  Mellott, D., Brandhorst, B. P., Klein, W. H., Elphick, M.R., Angerer, L.M, THORNDYKE, M.C. 2006 A Genomic View of the Echinoid Nervous System. Dev. Biol. 300: 434-460

Dupont, S., Wilson, K., Obst, M., Sköld, H., Nakano, H., and THORNDYKE, M. 2007 Marine ecological genomics: when genomics meets marine ecology. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 332: 257-273.

Yun, S-S., THORNDYKE, M.C., Elphick, M.R. 2007  Identification of novel SALMFamide neuropeptides in the starfish Marthasterias glacialis. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. B. 147: 536-542. 

Dupont, S., THORNDYKE M.C. 2007 Bridging the regeneration gap: insights from echinoderm models. Nature Reviews Genetics 8, (April 2007) | doi:10.1038/nrg1923-c1

Clark, MS, Dupont, S, Rossetti, H, Burns, G, THORNDYKE, MC, Peck, LS., 2007 Delayed arm regeneration in the Antarctic brittle star Ophionotus victoriae. Aquatic Biol. 1: 45-53.

Bannister, R., McGonnell, I.M., Graham, A., THORNDYKE, M.C., Beesley, P.W. 2008 Coelomic expression of a novel bone morphogenetic protein in regenerating arms of the brittle star Amphiura filiformis". Dev. Genes Evol.218 33-38.

Holm K, Dupont S, Sköld H, Stenius A, THORNDYKE M & Henroth B (2008) Induced cell proliferation in putative haematopoietic tissues of the sea star, Asterias rubens (L.) J. exp. Biol.211: 2551-2558.

Bourlat, SJ, Nakano, H, Akerman, M, Telford, MJ, THORNDYKE, MC, Obst, M 2008 Feeding ecology of Xenoturbella bocki (phylum Xenoturbellida) revealed by genetic barcoding. Mol. Ecol. Res.8: 18-22

Fritzsch, G, Boehme, MU, THORNDYKE, M, Nakano, H, Israelsson, O, Stach, T, Schlegel, M, Hankeln, T, Stadler, PF 2008 PCR survey of Xenoturbella bocki Hox genes J. Exp.Zool. Mol. Dev. Evol. 310B: 278-284

Holm, K, Hernroth, B, THORNDYKE, M, 2008 Coelomocyte numbers and expression of HSP70 in wounded sea stars during hypoxia. Cell. Tiss.Res. 334: 319-325.

Nakano, H, Bourlat, S, Obst, M, Nakano, A, Telford, M, THORNDYKE, M., 2008 Developmental Studies of Xenoturbella. J. Morphol. 269: 1477-1478.

Havenhand, JN, Buttler, F-R, THORNDYKE, MC, Williamson JE, 2008 Near-future levels of ocean acidification reduce fertilization success in a sea urchin. Current Biol. 18 R1-R2.

Dupont S, Havenhand J, Thorndyke W, Peck L & THORNDYKE MC. (2008) CO2-driven ocean acidification radically affect larval survival and development in the brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 373: 285-294.

Andersson P, Håkansson B, Håkansson J, Sahlsten E, Havenhand J, THORNDYKE M & Dupont S (2008) Marine acidification - On effects and monitoring of marine acidification in the seas surrounding Sweden. SMHI report, Oceanografi 82. 62 pages.

Biressi A, Zou T, Dupont S, Dahlberg C, Di Benedetto C, Bonasoro F, Thorndyke M & Candia Carnevali MD (2010) Wound-healing and arm regeneration in two brittlestar species (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea): comparative morphogenesis and histogenesis. Zoomorphology. 129: 1-19.  DOI 10.1007/s00435-009-0095-7

Dupont S & Thorndyke M (2009) Impact of CO2-driven ocean acidification on invertebrates early life-history - What we know, what we need to know and what we can do. Biogeoscience. 6, 3109-3131. Discussion Paper PDF: http://tinyurl.com/cz4ku6

Fauville G, Hodin J, Dupont S, Miller P, Haws J, Thorndyke M & Epel D (2009) Virtual ocean acidification laboratory as an efficient educational tool to address climate change issues. Climate 2009 PDF: http://www.klima2009.net/en/papers/4/21

Widdicombe S, Dupont S & Thorndyke M (2009) Laboratory experiments and benthic mesocosm studies. Accepted for the Guide for Best Practices in Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting.

Pörtner HO, Dupont S, Melzner F & Thorndyke M (2009) Studies of metabolic and other characters across life stages. Laboratory experiments and benthic mesocosm studies. Accepted for the Guide for Best Practices in Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting.

Dupont S & THORNDYKE M (2009) Ocean Acidification and its impact on the early life-history stages of marine animals. CIESM Monograph 36.

Dahlberg C, Auger H, Dupont S, Sasakura Y, THORNDYKE M & Joly JS (2009) Refining the model system of central nervous system regeneration in Ciona intestinalis. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4458. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004458

Dupont S, Thorndyke W, THORNDYKE M & Burke R (2009) Neural development of the brittlestar Amphiura filiformis. Dev.Genes Evol. 219 159-166

Melzner F, Gutowska MA, Langenbuch M, Dupont S, Lucassen M, Thorndyke M, Bleich M & Pörtner HO (2009) Physiological basis for high CO2 tolerance in marine ectothermic animals: pre-adaptation through lifestyle and ontogeny? Biogeosciences. 6, 2313-2331.

Dupont, S., Ortega-Martinez, O., THORNDYKE, M. 2010 Impact of near-future ocean acidification on echinoderms Ecotoxicology 19: 449-463 DOI 10.1007/s10646-010-0463-6

Dupont  S., Lundve B., THORNDYKE M., 2010 Near Future Ocean Acidification Increases Growth Rate of the Lecithotrophic Larvae and Juveniles of the Sea Star Crossaster papposus J.exp. Zool. B. DOI: 10.1002/jezmde. 2134.

Book Chapters

Candia Carnevali, MD, THORNDYKE MC & Matranga V, (2009) Regenerating echinoderms: a promise to understand stem cell potential. In: Stem Cells in Marine Organisms, Rinkevich, Baruch; Matranga, Valeria (Eds.) pp165-186.


Michael Thorndyke portrait

Contact information

Michael Thorndyke

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences - Kristineberg
University of Gothenburg
Kristineberg 566
SE-451 78 Fiskebäckskil


CeMEB - The Linnaeus Centre for Marine Evolutionary Biology


+46 (0)31-786 9520


+46 (0)31-786 3990



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