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Cristian Cañestro, ICREA Academy 2022

The ICREA Academy 2022 program has distinguished the scientific trajectory of Dr. Cristian Cañestro, professor at the Section of Genetics at the Faculty of Biology and member of the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the UB.

The ICREA Academy program thus contributes to intensify the research carried out by university teachers who are in a fully active and expansive phase of their research career. Winners receive a grant to do research over a five-year period.

Professional Career

Cristian Cañestro obtained his PhD in the UB in 2001. During his career, he has gained extensive experience in international research centers including stages in the University of Reading (UK), University in of South Florida (USA), Institute of Developmental Biology in Marseille (France), the University of Kochi (Japan), and specially in the Institute of Neuroscience in the University of Oregon (USA) where he was for nearly 8 years as a postdoctoral research associate. In 2009, he returned to the University of Barcelona where he won a Lecturer professor position and became leader of his group EvoDevoGenomicsUB in the department of Genetics. In 2017, he won a permanent position as associate professor –Agregat. His leadership has been consolidated as principal investigator in three national projects and one European project, as well as participating in numerous international collaborations specially with groups in Japan and Italy. Cristian Cañestro holds numerous positions of responsibility, including elected member of the governing council of the UB, claustre-UB, board of the faculty of Biology, direction board of IRBio, permanent board of the genetics section, and the commissions of research and PhD in the genetics section. Cristian Cañestro is involved in numerous teaching activities, including classes in the master of Genetics and Genomics and the master on Molecular Biotechnology, and the degrees of Biotechnology and Biochemistry, and most of his teaching is related to genetic engineering and animal transgenesis. Cristian Cañestro is also involved in numerous outreach dissemination activities and transference of knowledge to the broad public.

EvoDevo Research

The work of Cañestro's group belongs to the basic research fields of Evolutionary Developmental Biology (a.k.a. EvoDevo) and Genomics, primarily studying the origin and evolution of our phylum, the chordates. For this reason, his group has investigated different animal models representing each of the three chordate subphyla (the vertebrate zebrafish, the cephalochordate amphioxus, and the tunicate ascidians and appendicularians). In this context, currently, the laboratory of Cristian Cañestro pioneers the development of the appendicularian specie Oikopleura dioica as an "evolutionary knockout" model for studying the impact and adaptive potential of gene loss as an evolutionary driving force. Among his scientific contributions, it stands out the discovery of the ancestral nature of the tripartite brain of vertebrates, and how in tunicates it is independent of retinoic acid in correlation with the disintegration of the Hox cluster. His work with zebrafish has contributed to understanding the impact of gene loss and developing tumor models of Fanconi Anemia. The work of his group has been published in the most prestigious journals, including various in Science and Nature, as well as a couple of reviews for Nature Review Genetics, from which his article “Evolution by gene loss” has become an influential cardinal review in the study of gene loss. One of the most relevant contribution of his work has been recently published in Nature (2021), highlighted on its cover and with exclusive authorship by members of his group at the UB, revealing that massive losses of cardiopharyngeal genes 500 million years ago impacted the evolution of the lifestyle of our marine ancestors. Internationally, Cristian Cañestro has a great prestige in the fields of Chordate EvoDevo and Gene Loss, frequently invited to give talks and conferences in international and national congresses, and it has received various awards: the 2022 prize to the best article of the Societat Catalana de Biologia SCB; the Ramón Margalef prize of the Consell Social and the Fundació Bosh i Gimpera to the best article derived from a PhD; and the accessit Pere Alberch prize to the best PhD in Evolutionary Biology by the Sociedad Española de Biología Evolutiva.

The current research lines of his laboratory are focused in two programs whose results could be potentially transferred to the society, public entities and administrations. 1) In the field of Biomedicine, the study of the cardiac and muscle development in Oikopleura could facilitate the development of a new animal model to better understand the molecular bases of certain human cardiomyopathies. 2) In the field of Marine Ecology and Environmental Science, the work on the study of how embryo development of marine species if affected by biotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms in the context of climate change or by marine noise contamination of anthropogenic origin could lead to develop new biosensors to study ocean's health.