Susana Coelho

Algal Development and Evolution

Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen
Faculty in: TIPP, IMPRS


  • PhD, Marine Biological Association of the UK (2003)
  • EMBO and Marie Curie Postdoctoral fellow, CNRS-Sorbonne University, France (2004-2006)
  • Group Leader, then Research Director at the CNRS Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (2006-2020)
  • Director at the MPI for Biology (since 2020)

Research Interest
Our research focuses on understanding the origin, evolution and regulation of sexual development and sex determining systems. We use the brown algae as model organisms. The brown algae are a eukaryotic supergroup that has been evolving independently of animals and land plants for more than a billion years. During that time, they acquired multicellularity independently of the former groups and have become the third most complex multicellular lineage on the planet. In addition, extant brown algae exhibit a remarkable diversity of types of sexual life cycles and sex determination systems. Surprisingly, whilst an enormous effort has been expended to understand the developmental and reproductive biology of animals and land plants, the brown algae have been almost completely ignored and very little is known about how these organisms function at the molecular level. Exploration of this group of eukaryotes is expected to provide important, fundamental insights into the processes underlying the evolution of complex multicellular life. In our department, we use a combination of genetic, genomic and molecular evolution approaches to understand how sexual development and sex determining systems are regulated in the brown algae and how these processes interact at the functional and evolutionary level.

Our previous work has allowed the identification of several major developmental regulators and we have dissected the chromosomal basis of sex determination in this group of eukaryotes, providing a solid foundation for the future advances of brown algal developmental biology and comparative molecular biology. Ongoing work on large scale evolution of sex chromosomes is making use of a large number of brown algal full genome sequences, in the context of SEXSEA and TETHYS (ERC Starting and Consolidator grants) in collaboration with Phaeoexplorer (France Genomique genome project). We are addressing two fundamental questions: i) the origin, evolution and regulation of sexual systems diversity across eukaryotes and ii) the molecular and evolutionary mechanisms that underlie the emergence of complex multicellularity and associated reproductive features in the brown algae. We tackle these problems using the outstanding diversity of reproductive and life cycle features of the brown algae, and their amenability for genetic, genomic and molecular evolutionary approaches.

Available PhD Projects

  • Currently not recruiting PhD students


Selected Reading

  • Gueno J, Bourdareau S, Cossard G, Godfroy O, Lipinska A, Tirichine L, Cock JM, Coelho SM. Chromatin landscape associated with sexual differentiation in a UV sex determination system, Nucleic Acids Research, 2022; gkac145, preprint bioRxiv 2020.10.29.359190
  • Cossard GG, Godfroy O, Nehr Z, et al. Selection drives convergent gene expression changes during transitions to co-sexuality in haploid sexual systems [published online ahead of print, 2022 Mar 21]. Nat Ecol Evol. 2022;10.1038/s41559-022-01692-4. doi:10.1038/s41559-022-01692-4, PubMed preprint bioRxiv 2021.07.05.451104
  • Ahmed S, Cock JM, Pessia E, Luthringer R, Cormier A, Robuchon M, Sterck L, Peters AF, Dittami SM, Corre E, Valero M, Aury J-M, Roze D, Van de Peer Y, Bothwell J, Marais GAB, Coelho SM. 2014. A haploid system of sex determination in the brown alga Ectocarpus sp. Curr Biol 24:1945–1957. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.07.042
  • Coelho SM, Gueno J, Lipinska AP, Cock JM, Umen JG. 2018. UV Chromosomes and Haploid Sexual Systems. Trends Plant Sci 23:794–807. doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2018.06.005


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