Miss Eleanor Gilbert

Miss Eleanor Gilbert

School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

ARIES funded PhD researcher in cnidarian developmental and functional biology, studying the function of the apical organ in cnidarians.


2020-present: PhD candidate, ARIES NERC DTP. University of Plymouth and the Marine Biologcial Association.

2019-20: MRes Marine Biology. Distinction. University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association, UK.

2015-19: BSc Marine Biology and Oceanography. First class with honours and placement year. University of Plymouth, UK

2018: 6 month placement. Sars International Center for Marine Molecular Biology, Bergen, Norway.

Research interests

Many marine invertebrates develop into adults via a planktonic ciliated larval stage. This larval stage is characterised by a sensory structure known as the apical organ, which possess sensory cells that are capable of sensing environmental cues. The apical organ exists in a diverse range of phylogenetic groups and is temporally restricted to the larval stage, therefore it has been proposed to play a crucial role in larval settlement behaviour and metamorphosis. Both of these process are vital for the formation and maintenance of benthic habitats, such as coral reefs. 

Despite its evolutionary and ecological importance, the function of the apical organ in cnidarians is not very well understood at the molecular level. Previous studies in the model sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, have identified larval specific gland cells, neurons and associated genes that are enriched in the apical region of the larval body plan, however the function of these cells and genes is not clear. The aim of my PhD is to study the evolution of the apical organ in marine invertebrates and to characterise the function of apical organ-associated cells. 

Understanding the function of the apical organ is important as climate change, particularly ocean acidification, has been shown to interfere with larval settlement behaviour. By improving our understanding of how larvae sense their environment, we may better understand how climate change will affect the formation of benthic habitats.