Athula H Wikramanayake, Ph.D.

Chair of Biology

(305) 284-4134
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Research Interests

I am an evolutionary developmental biologist and my laboratory uses embryological, molecular, genomic and phylogenetic approaches to investigate the evolution of pattern formation in metazoan embryos. A major focus of my laboratory is to investigate the molecular basis for the evolution, specification and patterning of the animal-vegetal (AV) axis. The AV axis is a cytoplasmic/cytoarchitectural polarity that is present in most animal eggs, and is specified maternally by largely unknown mechanisms. This maternally deposited developmental information is used during embryogenesis to specify the primary germ layers. We use embryos of sea urchins, which are basal deuterostomes from the phylum Echinodermata, as a model system for our studies on AV axis specification and patterning. In parallel with these studies in sea urchins, we use this information in a phylogenetic context to gain insight into the mechanisms that may have led to the evolution of the AV axis and the evolution of the germ layers. For these comparative studies we use the new genomic cnidarian model system, Nematostella vectensis. Cnidarians are thought to be the sister group to the bilaterians, making Nematostella an excellent model system for gaining insight into the conserved developmental mechanisms shared by the last common ancestor to bilaterians and cnidarians. This phylogenetic approach has yielded important insight into the evolutionarily conserved role of the Wnt signaling pathway in early pattern formation in animal embryos. Additionally, these simple marine invertebrate embryos are proving to be excellent model systems for studying the regulation and evolution of the Wnt pathway, a pathway of considerable biomedical significance.

Teaching Interests

In the fall semester I teach one of the Introductory Biology HHMI labs that involves freshman students in active learning through research projects. In the spring semester I teach Developmental Biology to undergraduate and graduate students, and the Biology Honors Symposium. I also teach a module in the Biology Core Curriculum for graduate students.


1993 - 1997Post Doctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
1993Ph.D. Zoology, University of California, Davis

Professional Experience

2014 - Chair, Department of Biology, The University of Miami
2011 - Co-Instructor, Embryology: Concepts & Techniques in Modern Developmental Biology, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA
2009 - Editorial Board, EvoDevo
2009 - Professor, Department of Biology, The University of Miami
2007 - 2009Associate Professor, Department of Biology, The University of Miami
2005 - 2007Associate Professor of Zoology (with tenure), University of Hawaii at Manoa
2005 - 2005, The National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
2004 - 2005PRESIDENT, Sigma Xi University of Hawaii at Manoa chapter
2001 - 2005Assistant Professor of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa
1998 - 2000ssistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
1997 - 1998Research Associate, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Honors & Acknowledgements

National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, 2005-2006
Outstanding Biology Educator, Department of Biology, University of Miami, 2012
National Science Foundation, Specification, patterning and evolution of the animal-vegetal axis, August 1, 2013 - July 31, 2018, Principal Investigator
NIH 1R03HD068672-01A1. Regulators of Dishevelled Function in the Wnt Signaling Pathway. August 8, 2012 - July 31, 2014
National Science Foundation. Evolution of embryonic polarity: The role of the Wnt signaling pathways. July 1, 2007- July 30 2011)
National Science Foundation. Specification and patterning of the animal-vegetal axis. January 1, 2005-December 31, 2008

LIST OF SPECIALTIES: Developmental Biology | Evolutionary Biology


Peng, C. and Wikramanayake, A.H "Differential regulation of Disheveled in a novel vegetal cortical domain in sea urchin eggs: Implications for the localized activation of beta-catenin signaling in early embryos" e806938 (11) (PLoS ONE. 2013).

Byrum, C.A. and Wikramanayake, A. H "Nuclearization of beta-catenin in ectodermal precursors confers organizer-like ability to induce endomesoderm and pattern a pluteus larva" 4 (1) (EvoDevo. 2013).