Simon Weinberger


Simon Weinberger

Host Institution

VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie; Flemish Insitute for Biotechnolgy)
Contact details

VIB Center for the Biology of Disease, KU LeuvenO&N4,

6e verdCampus Gasthuisberg, Herestraat 49, bus 602,


+32 16 37 31 20














Background and previous research experience

I studied Genetics and Microbiology (area of specialization: Cell- and Developmental Genetics) at the University of Vienna. I did my master thesis, “The role of BMP-signaling in axis formation of Nematostella vectensis” at the Department of Molecular Evolution and Development (Technau Lab), University of Vienna.

Main areas of interest

I am an enquiring person and I believe that, as long one goes into the details, everything is interesting. My research interests fall under developmental biology and evolution of development. During my master thesis, I worked on the evolution of body axis formation. During my PhD, I decided to work on the evolution of developmental gene regulatory networks. In particular, I want to elucidate the role of transcription factor coding sequence changes during developmental evolution. 

FLiACT project

Evolutionary changes in gene regulatory networks (GRNs) governing the development occur either in coding sequences or in cis-regulatory elements of the genes the network consists of. In Drosophila, the transcriptional factor Atonal governs the formation of various sense organs involved in vision, olfaction, proprioception and hearing. Atonal homologues are found throughout the bilaterian lineage. Strikingly, in all organisms where their function was investigated, they control the development of sense organs of the same sensory modality, as in the Drosophila. This suggests a common origin of the Atonal-dependent sensory organs and of the GRNs governing their development.

The aim of this project is to study the contribution of transcription factor coding sequence changes to developmental evolution. To do so, the fruitfly Dmato coding sequence will be replaced by homologues (Aths), which were selected from organisms in phylogeneticaly relevant positions throughout the metazoan lineage. The effect of the substitutions of Dmato coding sequence on development, morphology and function of the Atonal-dependent sensory organs will be analyzed. Furthermore, the ability of the different Aths to activate previously identified Atonal-responsive enhancers will be assayed. These complementary approaches are expected to allow correlating between coding sequence, development and differentiation, and enhancer activation.