Welcome to our lab's website

Yehu Moran

Feel free to contact Yehu: yehu.moran at mail.huji.ac.il / yehum79 at yahoo.com

Yehu studied from 2001-2010 at Tel Aviv University where he obtained a BSc in Life Sciences, MSc in Biochemistry and PhD working on sea anemone toxins. Then he moved to the lab of Ulrich Technau at the University of Vienna to study the evolution of post-transcriptional regulation by small RNAs. Since January 2014 he is an assistant professor(officially called in the Israeli academic system "senior lecturer") at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 
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Our Research

I am an experimental biologist. I find the interface between bioinformatics, genomics and experimental biology very exciting but I'm not a CS person. I was trained in a wide range of biochemical techniques as my master degree is in biochemistry. In my PhD my topics of research switched more intoevolution and in my postdoc I also added developmental biology into the mix. I believe cnidarians are a wonderful research system if you want to get a perspective about what animal life looked like 600 million years ago since this is when they diverged from the rest of the animals.  Despite being considered "primitive" they share with us humans sophisticated cell types, including neurons and muscles.  The interesting topics you can study with this system are endless. However, time is limited and we focus on the following topics:

 

Research Topics

 

 
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The evolution of small RNA pathways and the roles of microRNAs in Cnidaria

MicroRNAs are small RNAs which were discovered initially in nematodes at 1993. A decade later they were also identified in most other animals and in plants and were shown to play crucial roles in the development of many species. MicroRNAs act through a protein effector complex which binds to messenger RNAs in a specific manner via annealing of the microRNA to the mRNA target and affect the target expression levels. I initialized during my postdoc in Vienna a study on the roles of microRNAs in N. vectensis development. This study is still underway but we already obtained some very exciting findings regarding the involvement of microRNAs in the regulation of expression levels of proteins involved in development of the anemone. Moreover, we have interesting results regarding the mechanism of action of microRNAs in cnidarians suggesting new and unexpected links between the microRNA pathways of plants and animals see our papers in MBE and Genome Research about this topic. This project also received much hype (and somewhat disinformative presentation!) in popular media such as here, here (in English) and here (in Hebrew). You can also read our new review in Nature Ecology and Evolution here.

 
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Evolution of sea anemone (and other strange animal) toxins

This is a study I initialized as a PhD student in Tel Aviv University at the lab of Prof. Michael Gurevitz and I pursue it further in my postdoc as a side project (toxinology is a very sad addiction). We published several papers about the unusual evolutionary patterns we discovered in sea anemone and scorpion toxins and speculated regarding the factors driving their selection. In general, animal toxins just like immunology-related proteins are a vast playground for strong adaptive selection as they are involved in a never-ending "arms-race" of prey and predator. We also found evidence for an unusual mode of evolution, called "concerted evolution" in the toxin genes of sea anemones. Further, in a recent paper we also show that the expression of neurotoxins happens in several anemone species such as Nematostella not only in nematocytes (stinging cells) but in gland cells. This finding challenges the common statement presented in many invertebrate zoology textbooks that peptide cnidarian toxins are produced exclusively in nematocytes. The ecological shifts which led to toxin expression in different cell populations of closely-related species are of great interest and open the field to eco-evo studies. We also employed proteomic methods for the study of the venom components of Nematosella nematocytes and recently published those results.

We are nowadays taking advantage on unique tools such as transgenesis techniques that are available in Nematostella for answering questions about the evolution of venom and venom-producing cells.

 
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Evolution of voltage-gated sodium channels

Voltage-gated sodium channels are pivotal components in the conductance of neuronal signals. The unprecedented extent of sequencing of animal genomes in the last few years has enabled us to study in detail the evolution of these channels. We found that these channels have first appeared in unicellular organisms before the split of fungi and animals, but were independently lost in many lineages. Surprisingly cnidarians have a remarkable diversity of channel isoforms, but most of them cannot discern sodium from calcium and potassium. However, Cnidarians do have a selective channel isoform that evolved more than 540 million years ago in the ancestor of all extant cnidarians. The molecular basis of this selectivity is different from that found in selective sodium channels of bilaterians, indicating that sodium selectivity evolved twice independently in animals, probably in order to comply with the rising need for more complex and faster neuronal transmission. In this work we applied both electrophysiological and phylogenetic methods and a first publication came out in Cell Reports. It was followed by a review paper.

Funding

Our research is generously funded by the Binational Science Foundation (BSF), the European Research Council (ERC), German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), the Israel Council of Higher Learning, the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and the Marie Curie Actions of the European Commission. We are grateful for this support. 

 

 

LAB MEMBERS

Reuven Aharoni (lab manager) reuven.Aharoni at mail.huji.ac.il Rubi obtained his MSc in Biomedical Studies and his PhD from the Institute of Dental Sciences of the Hebrew University. He was working in the lab of Doron Steinberg on bacterial biofilm. He is our lab manager and is responsible for everything running smoothly. In addition he is currently studying the evolution of Argonaute proteins and their function in Cnidaria.

Reuven Aharoni

(lab manager) reuven.Aharoni at mail.huji.ac.il

Rubi obtained his MSc in Biomedical Studies and his PhD from the Institute of Dental Sciences of the Hebrew University. He was working in the lab of Doron Steinberg on bacterial biofilm. He is our lab manager and is responsible for everything running smoothly. In addition he is currently studying the evolution of Argonaute proteins and their function in Cnidaria.

Maayan Agron (PhD student) maayan.agron at mail.huji.ac.il Maayan joined our group in June 2015. She obtained her BSc in Animal Science from the Agriculture Faculty of the Hebrew University. She received her MSc in Marine Biology from the Marine Sciences School of Haifa University where she worked with Tamar Lotan on the effects of heavy metals on gene expression in Nematostella. In our lab she is working on the evolution of the biolgenesis of miRNAs and the roles of the microprocessor and dicers in Cnidaria.

Maayan Agron (PhD student) maayan.agron at mail.huji.ac.il

Maayan joined our group in June 2015. She obtained her BSc in Animal Science from the Agriculture Faculty of the Hebrew University. She received her MSc in Marine Biology from the Marine Sciences School of Haifa University where she worked with Tamar Lotan on the effects of heavy metals on gene expression in Nematostella. In our lab she is working on the evolution of the biolgenesis of miRNAs and the roles of the microprocessor and dicers in Cnidaria.

Keren Cohen (guest scientist) kerencohe at gmail.com Keren received her PhD from the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University where she worked in the lab of Osnat Ashur-Fabian on characterizing the roles of integrins in cancer and their effects on death mechanisms and DNA damage response. She has joined our lab as a guest scientist on August 2016 and she works on the heterologous expression of peptides in Nematostella stinging cells. This project is performed in collaboration with Monterey Bay Labs, an Israeli biotech company.

Keren Cohen (guest scientist) kerencohe at gmail.com

Keren received her PhD from the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University where she worked in the lab of Osnat Ashur-Fabian on characterizing the roles of integrins in cancer and their effects on death mechanisms and DNA damage response. She has joined our lab as a guest scientist on August 2016 and she works on the heterologous expression of peptides in Nematostella stinging cells. This project is performed in collaboration with Monterey Bay Labs, an Israeli biotech company.

Yaara Columbus-Shenkar (PhD student) yshenkar at gmail.com Yaara obtained her BSc in Marine Sciences from the Ruppin Academic Center (Michmoret campus). She studied the phylogeny of ticks in the lab of Yuval Gottlieb-Dror at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture where she obtained her MSc. She joined our group in April 2014 as a PhD student and her research focus is the function and evolution of Nematostella venom and toxins.

Yaara Columbus-Shenkar (PhD student) yshenkar at gmail.com

Yaara obtained her BSc in Marine Sciences from the Ruppin Academic Center (Michmoret campus). She studied the phylogeny of ticks in the lab of Yuval Gottlieb-Dror at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture where she obtained her MSc. She joined our group in April 2014 as a PhD student and her research focus is the function and evolution of Nematostella venom and toxins.

Arie Fridrich (PhD student) arie.fridrich at mail.huji.ac.il Arie joined our lab as a PhD student on November 2015. Before joining our group he obtained his MSc in Biotechnology from Bar Ilan University.  He worked there with Prof. Yaron Shav-Tal on the transcriptional activity of single cells by applying live imaging. In our group Arie works on the roles of nematocyte-specific miRNAs and on the functional divergence of Argonaute proteins in Nematostella.

Arie Fridrich (PhD student) arie.fridrich at mail.huji.ac.il

Arie joined our lab as a PhD student on November 2015. Before joining our group he obtained his MSc in Biotechnology from Bar Ilan University.  He worked there with Prof. Yaron Shav-Tal on the transcriptional activity of single cells by applying live imaging. In our group Arie works on the roles of nematocyte-specific miRNAs and on the functional divergence of Argonaute proteins in Nematostella.

Vengamanaidu Modepalli (postdoc) vengaman.modepali at mail.huji.ac.il Venky obtained his Bachelor degree in Biotechnology from SRM University in India. He later joined the lab of Kevin Nicholas at Deakin University (Melbourne, Australia) where he studied the roles of lactation in the development of marsupials. After obtaining his master degree in biotechnology and PhD from Deakin he joined our lab as a postdoc in July 2015. At Jerusalem he studies the roles of small RNA methylation in cnidarians.

Vengamanaidu Modepalli (postdoc)

vengaman.modepali at mail.huji.ac.il

Venky obtained his Bachelor degree in Biotechnology from SRM University in India. He later joined the lab of Kevin Nicholas at Deakin University (Melbourne, Australia) where he studied the roles of lactation in the development of marsupials. After obtaining his master degree in biotechnology and PhD from Deakin he joined our lab as a postdoc in July 2015. At Jerusalem he studies the roles of small RNA methylation in cnidarians.

Maria Sachkova (Postdoc) mariasachkova at gmail.com Maria received her MSc in Biochemistry from Moscow State University in 2009. Then she worked with Dr. Alexander Vassilevski at the Shemykin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry at Moscow where she obtained her PhD. She worked there on the evolution and biochemistry of spider toxins.  Maria joined our group on Septemebr 2015 and she works on the biochemistry and evolutionary ecology of Nematostella venom in a joint BSF-NSF project between our group and the Reitzel group at UNC Charlotte.

Maria Sachkova (Postdoc) mariasachkova at gmail.com

Maria received her MSc in Biochemistry from Moscow State University in 2009. Then she worked with Dr. Alexander Vassilevski at the Shemykin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry at Moscow where she obtained her PhD. She worked there on the evolution and biochemistry of spider toxins.  Maria joined our group on Septemebr 2015 and she works on the biochemistry and evolutionary ecology of Nematostella venom in a joint BSF-NSF project between our group and the Reitzel group at UNC Charlotte.

Shir Singer (MSc student)  shir.singer at mail.huji.ac.il Shir graduated with a BSc in Life Sciences from Bar Ilan University and joined our group on October 2016. She is studying the function of toxin-like proteins from early Nematostella embryos and eggs.  

Shir Singer (MSc student) 

shir.singer at mail.huji.ac.il

Shir graduated with a BSc in Life Sciences from Bar Ilan University and joined our group on October 2016. She is studying the function of toxin-like proteins from early Nematostella embryos and eggs.

 

Kartik Sunagar (guest scientist) anaturalist at gmail.com Kartik did his BSc (Genetics, Chemistry and Zoology) and MSc (Genetics and Molecular Biology) studies at Karnatak University in India. He performed his PhD research in the group of Agostinho Antunes at the Univeristy of Porto in Portugal where he was studying the molecular evolution of venom . He has numerous publications in this field with an emphasis on snake venom. He has joined our group on June 2014 and he works on the molecular evolution of sea anemone venom. Kartik is an awardee of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.

Kartik Sunagar (guest scientist) anaturalist at gmail.com

Kartik did his BSc (Genetics, Chemistry and Zoology) and MSc (Genetics and Molecular Biology) studies at Karnatak University in India. He performed his PhD research in the group of Agostinho Antunes at the Univeristy of Porto in Portugal where he was studying the molecular evolution of venom . He has numerous publications in this field with an emphasis on snake venom. He has joined our group on June 2014 and he works on the molecular evolution of sea anemone venom. Kartik is an awardee of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.

Publications

 

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Research Papers

21. Mauri M, Kirchner M, Aharoni R, Ciolli Mattioli C, van den Bruck D, Gutkovitch N, Modepalli V, Selbach M, Moran Y, Chekulaeva M (2017) Conservation of miRNA-mediated silencing mechanisms across 600 million years of animal evolution. Nucleic Acids Res. 45: 938-950 pubmed link

20. Sunagar K, Moran Y (2015) The Rise and Fall of an Evolutionary Innovation: Contrasting Strategies of Venom Evolution in Ancient and Young Animals. PLOS Genet. 11: e1005596. Link.

19. Jouiaei M*, Sunagar K*, Gross AF, Scheib H, Alewood PF, Moran Y#, Fry BG# (2015) Evolution of an ancient venom: recognition of a novel family of cnidarian toxins and the common evolutionary origin of sodium and potassium neurotoxins in sea anemone. Mol. Biol. Evol. 32:1598-610. *equal contribution; #co-corresponding authors. pubmed link

18. Moran Y, Zakon HH (2014) The evolution of the four subunits of voltage-gated calcium channels: ancient roots, increasing complexity and multiple losses. Genome Biol. Evol. 6: 2210-7. pubmed link

17. Gur Barzilai M, Kahn R, Regev N, Gordon D, Moran Y, Gurevitz M (2014) The specificity of Av3 sea anemone toxin for arthropods is determined at linker DI/SS2-S6 in the pore module of target sodium channels. Biochem. J. 463: 271-7. pubmed link

16. Moran Y, Fredman D, Praher D, Li XZ, Wee LM, Rentzsch F, Zamore PD, Technau U, Seitz H (2014) Cnidarian microRNAs frequently regulate targets by cleavage. Genome Res. 24: 651-63. pubmed link

15. Moran Y, Praher D, Fredman D, Technau U (2013) The evolution of microRNA pathway protein components in Cnidaria. Mol. Biol. Evol. 30: 2541-52. pubmed link

14. Orts DJ, Moran Y, Cologna CT, Peigneur S, Madio B, Praher D, Quinton L, De Pauw E, Bicudo JE, Tytgat J, de Freitas JC (2013) BcsTx3 is a founder of a novel sea anemone toxin family of potassium channel blockers. FEBS J.  280: 4839-52. pubmed link

13. Nesher N, Shapira E, Sher D, Moran Y, Tsveyer L, Turchetti-Maia AL, Horowitz M, Hochner B, Zlotkin E (2013) AdE-1, a new inotropic Na+ channel toxin from Aiptasia diaphana, is similar to, yet distinct from, known anemone Na+ channel toxins. Biochem. J. 451: 81-90. pubmed link

12.  Moran Y, Praher D, Schlesinger A, Ayalon A, Tal Y, Technau U (2013) Analysis of soluble protein contents from the nematocysts of a model sea anemone sheds light on venom evolution. Mar. Biotechnol. (NY). 15: 329-39. pubmed link

11. Gur Barzilai M, Reitzel AM, Kraus JEM, Gordon D, Technau U, Gurevitz M, Moran Y (2012) Convergent evolution of sodium ion selectivity in metazoan neuronal signaling. Cell Rep. 2: 242-248. pubmed link 

10. Moran Y, Fredman D, Szczesny P, Grynberg M, Technau U (2012) Recurrent horizontal transfer of bacterial toxin genes to eukaryotes. Mol. Biol. Evol. 29: 2223-2230. pubmed link

9. Moran Y, Genikhovich G, Gordon D, Wienkoop S, Zenkert C, Özbek S, Technau U, Gurevitz M (2012) Neurotoxin localization to ectodermal gland cells uncovers an alternative mechanism of venom delivery in sea anemones. Proc. R. Soc. B 279: 1351-1358. pubmed link

8. Weinberger H*, Moran Y*,Gordon D, Turkov M, Kahn R, Gurevitz M (2010) Positions under positive selection – key for selectivity and potency of scorpion alpha-toxins. Mol. Biol. Evol. 27: 1025-34. *these authors contributed equally to this work. pubmed link

7. Moran Y, Weinberger H, Lazarus N, Gur M, Kahn R, Gordon D, Gurevitz M (2009) Fusion and retrotransposition events in the evolution of sea anemone neurotoxin genes. J. Mol. Evol. 69: 115-24. pubmed link

6. Cohen L*, Moran Y*, Sharon A, Segal D, Gordon D, Gurevitz M (2009) An innate immunity peptide of Drosophila melanogaster, interacts with the fly voltage-gated sodium channel. J. Biol. Chem. 284: 23558-63. *these authors contributed equally to this work. pubmed link

5. Moran Y, Weinberger H, Reitzel AM, Sullivan JC, Kahn R, Gordon D, Finnerty JR, Gurevitz, M (2008) Intron retention as a post-transcriptional regulatory mechanism of neurotoxin expression at early life stages of the starlet anemone Nematostella vectensis. J. Mol. Biol. 380: 437-43. pubmed link

4. Moran Y, Weinberger H, Sullivan JC, Reitzel AM, Finnerty JR, Gurevitz M (2008) Concerted Evolution of sea anemone neurotoxin genes is revealed through analysis of the Nematostella vectensis genome. Mol. Biol. Evol. 25: 737-47. pubmed link

3. Moran Y, Kahn R, Cohen L, Gur M, Karbat I, Gordon D, Gurevitz M (2007) Molecular analysis of the sea anemone toxin Av3 reveals selectivity to insects and demonstrates the heterogeneity of receptor site-3 on voltage-gated Na-channels. Biochem. J. 406: 41-48. pubmed link

2. Moran Y, Gurevitz M (2006) When positive selection of neurotoxin genes is missing: The riddle of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. FEBS J. 273: 3886-92. pubmed link

1. Moran Y, Cohen L, Kahn R, Karbat I, Gordon D, Gurevitz M (2006) Mutagenesis of the sea anemone toxin Av2 reveals key amino acid residues important for activity on insect voltage-gated sodium channels. Biochemistry 45: 8864-73. pubmed link

 

REVIEW ARTICLES

 

5. Moran Y, Agron M, Praher D, Technau U (2017) The evolutionary Origin of plant and animal microRNAs. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1: 0027. link

4. Sunagar K, Morgenstern D, Reitzel AM, Moran Y (2015) Ecological venomics: How genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics can shed new light on the ecology and evolution of venom. J. Proteomics S1874-3919: 30131-7. pubmed link

3. Moran Y, Gur Barzilai M, Liebeskind BJ, Zakon HH (2015) Evolution of voltage-gated ion channels at the emergence of Metazoa. J. Exp. Biol. 218: 515-525. pubmed link

 

2. Qiu X, Brown, KV, Moran Y, Chen D (2010) Sirtuin regulation in calorie restriction. Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 1804: 1576-83. pubmed link

1. Moran Y, Gordon D, Gurevitz M (2009) Sea anemone toxins affecting voltage-gated sodium channels - molecular and evolutionary features. Toxicon, 54: 1089-1101. pubmed link

 

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OuR Address

Yehu Moran's lab                                        Room 212, Berman building                      Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences          Faculty of Science                                      Edmond J. Safra campus, Givat Ram                       The Hebrew University of Jerusalem               9190401 Jerusalem                                       Israel

 

Email: yehu.moran at mail.huji.ac.il OR yehum79@yahoo.com

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

 
 

Lab pictures

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Anemone system

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Arie and Yael                         Maria and the FPLC                        Yaara and a crocodile

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The view of western Jerusalem from our lab window            Lab excursion to the Jerusalem zoo