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                                Franz-Odendaal lab logo


Principal Investigator: 
Tamara Franz-Odendaal, Full Professor, Biology

External research website:


Research Interests:

1. Vertebrate scleral ossicles (reptiles and teleosts) - evolution and development

2. Comparative craniofacial development 

Our broad interest is in comparative vertebrate craniofacial development and evolution - currently I have focused my research on craniofacial skeleton, specifically the eye region and skull bones. Vertebrate eye development is complex involving a series of inductive interactions. During ontogeny the optic cup is formed prior to development of the surrounding skeletal elements. The developing eye moulds an orbit of the appropriate size and thus a close relationship between the eye and skeleton exists during development. The population of cells we are interested in are the neural crest cells.  
Neural crest cells are initially epithelial cells and are part of the neural tube.  During neural tube closure, these cells become mesenchymal and migrate out of the neural tube to different parts of the embryo where they can differentiate into a wide range of cell types (incl. pigment cells, bone cells, neurons etc).   Defects involving the neural crest for example include cleft lip, cleft palate, Waardenburg’s syndrome, craniosynostosis etc. My research group is attempting to understand one population of neural crest cells, the cranial neural crest cells, which contribute to the skull bones and cartilages.  We use three model organisms (zebrafish, Mexican tetra and chicken embryos) in order to understand epigenetic processes prior to the differentiation of neural crest cells into their final fate.  These include tracking neural crest cells using transgenics and fluorescent markers (i.e. migration); trying to understand fate specification (using laser ablation) and trying to unravel one of the most important steps in skeletal formation prior to differentiation; namely condensation formation.  Other techniques include: molecular techniques (RT-PCR, in situ hybridization, immunocytochemistry), experimental embryology and microscopy (light, confocal, electron) as tools in my research program.  Another aspect of my research is trying to understand the evolution of developmental processes (induction and patterning) across different vertebrate groups by including the study fossils.


Understanding these fundamental steps in neural crest cell biology is critical to gaining insight into disorders involving this population of cells, such as neurocristopathies; as well as the evolution of elements derived from the neural crest. 


Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU)

Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)

Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation (NSHRF)

Canadian Space Agency - Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (CSA-ACOA partnership)

Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI)

Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT)

Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT) supports research infrastructure in Nova Scotia by matching national funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). NSRIT benefits researchers in areas such as health, environment and technology. Since 2001, NSRIT -- through the Province of Nova Scotia -- has awarded over $60 million to more than 300 projects at Nova Scotia research beneficiary institutions, dramatically leveraging opportunities for innovation and direct economic benefits to the people of Nova Scotia and beyond.”