Professor Peter Dearden

  • Biochemistry Department
  • School of Biomedical Sciences
  • University of Otago
  • P.O. Box 56
  • 710 Cumberland St
  • Dunedin 9054 , New Zealand
  • Tel.: 64 3 479-7832
  • Fax: 64 3 479-7866

Evolution and Development, Genome Evolution:

Genetic studies have helped us to understand the molecular control of development in a small number of model systems. In Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, for example, we can trace the molecular events that pattern specific body parts all the way back to the fertilised egg. What is unclear is how these patterning processes change over evolutionary time to give us the diversity of morphology we see in organisms today.

Our lab aims to understand the molecular basis of morphological evolution by studying how the developmental pathways that regulate embryogenesis evolve to produce different animal morphologies. To study this we use two model systems, the Honeybee (Apis mellifera) and a Rotifer (Brachionus plicatilis).

The Evolution of Developmental Pathways:

To understand and model the evolution of developmental pathways we need to study how evolutionary processes affect the complex interactions of genes and proteins that pattern embryos. One of the best model systems for understanding pattern formation is segmentation in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Twenty years of study of this system has lead to an almost complete understanding of how genes and their product produce the segments of Drosophila. We are studying how this system has evolved by looking at the same segmentation process in the Honeybee. Honeybee segmentation is homologous to segmentation in Drosophila, uses many of the same genes, but is different in its morphological and molecular details. Using RNAi and transgenic Drosophila we are trying to understand how these molecular and morphological changes have come about. This study should give us a better understanding of the way in which developmental processes evolved and will perhaps lead to a predictive theory of the evolution of development.

Deep Homology and the Evolution of Animals:

Little is known about the genetic control of development in animals other than the well-studied genetic model systems Drosophila, Caenorhabditis, Zebrafish and mouse. One group of animals that are poorly researched are the Lophotrochozoa, a group of animal phyla including annelids, molluscs, platyhelminths, rotifers and others. Without understanding how these animals regulate development we are unable to develop a clear picture of the evolutionary history of animals. To study the genetic control of development in the Lophotrochozoa we are using a Rotifer, Brachionus plicatilis, as a model system.
Rotifers are tiny aquatic animals that are easy to grow in the laboratory and have a short generation time. We have developed technique to examine gene expression and function and are using these to understand development in this animal.

These projects are funded by a Royal society of New Zealand Marsden Grant and a University of Otago Research Grant

Furthur Details of these projects and the Laboratory for Evolution and Development can be found on our website.


Confocal projection of a developing spider mite embryo stained with phalloidin (green) and propidium iodide (red)

Blastoderm stage spider mite embryo stained for Turunt RNA (blue) and Distal-less protein (brown)


Extended germ-band stage Locust embryo stained for Sgfringe RNA (purple)


  • Peter Dearden
  • 2016, Best Research Paper of the Year by a BMS Researcher
  • Peter Dearden
  • 2014, Genetics Society of AustralAsia Ross Crozier Medal
  • for outstanding contributions to genetics
  • Associate Professor Peter Dearden
  • 2014, Callaghan Medal for science communication
  • for the outreach activities of Genetics Otago that he helped form and his involvement in communicating his genetics research on honey bees with the beekeeping industry and the public.
  • Associate Professor Peter Dearden & Dr Elizabeth Duncan
  • 2010, Otago School of Medical Sciences Best Paper Award

Selected Publications

Elizabeth J Duncan, Otto Hyink, and Peter K Dearden., Notch signalling mediates reproductive constraint in the adult worker honeybee., Nat Commun 2016 vol. 7 p. 12427., Link »

Andrew G Cridge, Peter K Dearden, and Lynette R Brownfield., Convergent occurrence of the developmental hourglass in plant and animal embryogenesis?, Ann Bot 2016 p. mcw024., Link »

L M Smith, L C Parr-Brownlie, E J Duncan, M A Black, N J Gemmell, P K Dearden, and J N J Reynolds., Striatal mRNA expression patterns underlying peak dose l-DOPA-induced dyskinesia in the 6-OHDA hemiparkinsonian rat., Neuroscience 2016., Link »

Camilla Valente Pires, Flávia Cristina De Paula Freitas, Alexandre S Cristino, Peter K Dearden, and Zilá Luz Paulino Simões., Transcriptome analysis of honeybee (Apis Mellifera) haploid and diploid embryos reveals early zygotic transcription during cleavage., PLoS ONE 2016 vol. 11 (1) p. e0146447., Link »

Andrew M Ellisdon, Cyril F Reboul, Santosh Panjikar, Kitmun Huynh, Christine A Oellig, Kelly L Winter, Michelle A Dunstone, Wayne C Hodgson, Jamie Seymour, Peter K Dearden, Rodney K Tweten, James C Whisstock, and Sheena McGowan., Stonefish toxin defines an ancient branch of the perforin-like superfamily., P Natl Acad Sci Usa 2015 p. 201507622., Link »

Miriam L Sharpe, Peter K Dearden, Gregory Gimenez, and Kurt L Krause., Comparative RNA seq analysis of the New Zealand glowworm Arachnocampa luminous reveals bioluminescence-related genes., BMC Genomics 2015 vol. 16 (1) p. 825, Link »

Amy M Paten, Elizabeth J Duncan, Sarah J Pain, Sam W Peterson, Paul R Kenyon, Hugh T Blair, and Peter K Dearden., Functional development of the adult ovine mammary gland--insights from gene expression profiling., BMC Genomics 2015 vol. 16 (1), Second p. 748., Link »

Peter K Dearden., Origin and evolution of the enhancer of split complex., BMC Genomics 2015 vol. 16 (1) p. 712., Link »

Ben M Sadd, Seth M Barribeau, Guy Bloch, Dirk C De Graaf, Peter Dearden, Christine G Elsik, Jürgen Gadau, Cornelis Jp Grimmelikhuijzen, Martin Hasselmann, Jeffrey D Lozier, Hugh M Robertson, Guy Smagghe, Eckart Stolle, Matthias Van Vaerenbergh, Robert M Waterhouse, Erich Bornberg-Bauer, Steffen Klasberg, Anna K Bennett, Francisco Camara, Roderic Guigo, Katharina Hoff, Marco Mariotti, Monica Munoz-Torres, Terence Murphy, Didac Santesmasses, Gro V Amdam, Matthew Beckers, Martin Beye, Matthias Biewer, Márcia Mg Bitondi, Mark L Blaxter, Andrew Fg Bourke, Mark Jf Brown, Severine D Buechel, Rossanah Cameron, Kaat Cappelle, James C Carolan, Olivier Christiaens, Kate L Ciborowski, David F Clarke, Thomas J Colgan, David H Collins, Andrew G Cridge, Tamas Dalmay, Stephanie Dreier, Louis du Plessis, Elizabeth Duncan, Silvio Erler, Jay Evans, Tiago Falcon, Kevin Flores, Flávia Cp Freitas, Taro Fuchikawa, Tanja Gempe, Klaus Hartfelder, Frank Hauser, Sophie Helbing, Fernanda C Humann, Frano Irvine, Lars S Jermiin, Claire E Johnson, Reed M Johnson, Andrew K Jones, Tatsuhiko Kadowaki, Jonathan H Kidner, Vasco Koch, Arian Köhler, F Bernhard Kraus, H Michael G Lattorff, Megan Leask, Gabrielle A Lockett, Eamonn B Mallon, David S Marco Antonio, Monika Marxer, Ivan Meeus, Robin Fa Moritz, Ajay Nair, Kathrin Näpflin, Inga Nissen, Jinzhi Niu, Francis Mf Nunes, John G Oakeshott, Amy Osborne, Marianne Otte, Daniel G Pinheiro, Nina Rossié, Olav Rueppell, Carolina G Santos, Regula Schmid-Hempel, Björn D Schmitt, Christina Schulte, Zilá Lp Simões, Michelle Pm Soares, Luc Swevers, Eva C Winnebeck, Florian Wolschin, Na Yu, Evgeny M Zdobnov, Peshtewani K Aqrawi, Kerstin P Blankenburg, Marcus Coyle, Liezl Francisco, Alvaro G Hernandez, Michael Holder, Matthew E Hudson, Laronda Jackson, Joy Jayaseelan, Vandita Joshi, Christie Kovar, Sandra L Lee, Robert Mata, Tittu Mathew, Irene F Newsham, Robin Ngo, Geoffrey Okwuonu, Christopher Pham, Ling-Ling Pu, Nehad Saada, Jireh Santibanez, DeNard Simmons, Rebecca Thornton, Aarti Venkat, Kimberly Ko Walden, Yuan-Qing Wu, Griet Debyser, Bart Devreese, Claire Asher, Julie Blommaert, Ariel D Chipman, Lars Chittka, Bertrand Fouks, Jisheng Liu, Meaghan P O'Neill, Seirian Sumner, Daniela Puiu, Jiaxin Qu, Steven L Salzberg, Steven E Scherer, Donna M Muzny, Stephen Richards, Gene E Robinson, Richard A Gibbs, Paul Schmid-Hempel, and Kim C Worley., The genomes of two key bumblebee species with primitive eusocial organization., Genome Biol 2015 vol. 16 (1), 2 p. 76., Link »

Andrew G Cridge, Megan P Leask, Elizabeth J Duncan, and Peter K Dearden., What Do Studies of Insect Polyphenisms Tell Us about Nutritionally-Triggered Epigenomic Changes and Their Consequences?, Nutrients 2015 vol. 7 (3) pp. 1787-1797., Link »

Macaulay, E. C., Donovan, E. L., Leask, M. P., Bloomfield, F. H., Vickers, M. H., Dearden, P. K., & Baker, P. N. , The importance of early life in childhood obesity and related diseases: A report from the 2014 Gravida Strategic Summit., Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (2014) 5(6), 398–407., Link »

Chipman, A. D., Ferrier, D. E. K., Brena, C., Qu, J., Hughes, D. S. T., Schröder, R., et al., The First Myriapod Genome Sequence Reveals Conservative Arthropod Gene Content and Genome Organisation in the Centipede Strigamia maritima., Plos Biology, 12(11), p. e1002005. 2014, Link »

A M Paten, S J Pain, S W Peterson, H T Blair, P R Kenyon, P K Dearden, and E J Duncan, Identification of reference genes for RT-qPCR in ovine mammary tissue during late pregnancy and lactation and in response to maternal nutritional programming., Physiological Genomics 2014 vol. 46 (15) pp. 560-570, Link »

Duncan, E. J., Johnson, T. K., Whisstock, J. C., Warr, C. G., & Dearden, P. K., Capturing embryonic development from metamorphosis: How did the terminal patterning signalling pathway of Drosophila evolve?, Current Opinion in Insect Science (2014) 1, 45–51., Link »

A J Osborne, E J Duncan, A G Cridge, and P K Dearden, Epigenetics and the Maternal Germline, Book chapter in Transgenerational Epigenetics, ISBN: 9780124059443 pp. 27-41, Link »

Elizabeth J Duncan, Peter D Gluckman, and Peter K Dearden, Epigenetics, plasticity, and evolution: How do we link epigenetic change to phenotype?, Journal of experimental zoology Part B, Molecular and developmental evolution 9999B: 1–13, 2014, Link »

Megan J Wilson, Nathan J Kenny, and Peter K Dearden, Components of the dorsal-ventral pathway also contribute to anterior-posterior patterning in honeybee embryos (Apis mellifera), EvoDevo 2014 vol. 5 (1) p. , Link »

Rosannah C Cameron, Elizabeth J Duncan, and Peter K Dearden, Biased gene expression in early honeybee larval development., BMC Genomics 2013 vol. 14 p. 903, Link »

R C Cameron, E J Duncan, and P K Dearden, Stable reference genes for the measurement of transcript abundance during larval caste development in the honeybee, Apidologie 2013 vol. 44 (4) pp. 357-366, Link »

O Hyink, F Laas, and P K Dearden, Genetic tests for alleles of complementary-sex-determiner to support honeybee breeding programmes, Apidologie 2013 vol. 44 (3) pp. 306-313, Link »

Nathan J Kenny and Peter K Dearden, NMDA receptor expression and C terminus structure in the rotifer Brachionus plicatilis and long-term potentiation across the Metazoa., Invertebrate neuroscience , Link »

Elizabeth J Duncan, Matthew A Benton, and Peter K Dearden, Canonical terminal patterning is an evolutionary novelty., Developmental Biology 2013 vol. 375 (2) pp. 193-201, Link »

Elizabeth J Duncan, Megan P Leask, and Peter K Dearden, The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) genome encodes two divergent early developmental programs., Developmental Biology 2013, Link »

Megan J Wilson and Peter K Dearden, RNA localization in the honeybee (Apis mellifera) oocyte reveals insights about the evolution of RNA localization mechanisms., Developmental Biology , Link »

Megan J Wilson and Peter K Dearden, Pair-Rule Gene Orthologues Have Unexpected Maternal Roles in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera)., PLoS ONE 2012 vol. 7 (9) p. e46490, Link »

J P S Chua, E J S Wallace, J A Yardley, E J Duncan, P K Dearden, and T C Summerfield, Gene expression indicates a zone of heterocyst differentiation within the thallus of the cyanolichen Pseudocyphellaria crocata, Phytologist Volume 196, Issue 3, pages 862–872, November 2012, Link »

Shigenobu, S., Bickel, R. D., Brisson, J. A., Butts, T., Chang, C.-c., Christiaens, O., Davis, G. K., Duncan, E. J., Ferrier, D. E. K., Iga, M., Janssen, R., Lin, G.-W., Lu, H.-L., McGregor, A. P., Miura, T., Smagghe, G., Smith, J. M., Zee, M. v. d., Velarde, R. A., Wilson, M. J., Dearden, P. K., Stern, D. L., 2010. Comprehensive survey of developmental genes in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum: frequent lineage-specific duplications and losses of developmental genes. Insect Molecular Biology. 19, 47-62.

The International Aphid Genomics Consortium, 2010. Genome sequence of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. PLoS Biol. 8, e1000313.

Wilson, M. J., Havler, M., Dearden, P. K., 2010. Giant, Kruppel, and caudal act as gap genes with extensive roles in patterning the honeybee embryo. Dev Biol. 339, 200-211

Wilson, M. J., Dearden, P. K., 2009. Tailless patterning functions are conserved in the honeybee even in the absence of Torso signaling. Dev Biol. 335, 276-87

Duncan EJ, Wilson MJ, Smith JM, Dearden PK (2008) Evolutionary origin and genomic organisation of runt-domain containing genes in arthropods. BMC Genomics;9(1):558

Specht D, Wu SB, Turner P, Dearden P, Koentgen F, Wolfrum U, Maw MA, Brandstaetter JH, Tom Dieck S (2008) .Effects of presynaptic mutations on a postsynaptic Cacna1s calcium channel co-localized with mGluR6 at mouse photoreceptor ribbon synapses.Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008 Oct 24

M.J. Wilson and P.K. Dearden (2008). Evolution of the Insect Sox genes. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 8:120 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-120[

Julia M. Young, Jennifer L. Juengel, Kenneth G. Dodds, Mhairi Laird, Peter K. Dearden, Alan S. McNeilly, Kenneth P. McNatty, Theresa Wilson. (2008)The ALK6 Booroola mutation enhances suppressive effects of BMP2, -4, -6 and GDF9 on FSH release from ovine primary pituitary cell cultures. Journal of Endocrinology, 196(2):251-261

The Honeybee genome sequencing consortium (Includes P.K Dearden and M.J. Wilson) (2006) Insights into social insects from the genome of the honey bee Apis mellifera. Nature, 443. 931-949

P.K. Dearden, M.J. Wilson, L. Sablan, P.W. Osborne, M. Havler,E. McNaughton, K. Kimura, N Milshina, M. Hasselmann, T. Gempe, M. Schioett, S.J. Brown, C. Elsik, P.W.H Holland, T. Kadowaki, M. Beye. (2006). Patterns of conservation and change in Honeybee developmental genes. Genome Research,16: 1376-1384.

Sabater-Munoz, B., F. Legeai, C. Rispe, J. Bonhomme, PK. Dearden, C. Dossat, A. Duclert, J. P. Gauthier, D. G. Ducray, W. Hunter, P. Dang, S. Kambhampati, D. Martinez-Torres, T. Cortes, A. Moya, A. Nakabachi, C. Philippe, N. Prunier-Leterme, Y. Rahbe, J. C. Simon, D. L. Stern, P. Wincker and D. Tagu (2006). "Large-scale gene discovery in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum (Hemiptera)." Genome Biol 7(3): R21.

Dearden PK (2006) Germ cell development in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera); vasa and nanos expression, BMC Developmental Biology 6, 6 DOI:10.1186/1471-213X-6-6.

B. Sabater-Munoz, F. Legeai, C. Rispe, J. Bonhomme, P. K. Dearden, C. Dossat, A. Duclert, J-P. Gauthier, D. G. Ducray, W. Hunter, P. Dang, S. Kambhampati, D. Martinez-Torres, T. Cortes, A. Moya, A. Nakabachi, C. Philippe, N. Prunier-Leterme, Y. Rahbe, J-C. Simon, D. L. Stern, P. Wincker & D. Tagu. (2006) Large scale gene discovery in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum (Hemiptera). Genome Research. In Press.

A.Hemara-Wahanui , S. Berjukow , C. I. Hope , P.K. Dearden , S. Wu , J.Wilson-Wheeler, D.M. Sharp , P. Lundon-Treweek, G.M. Clover, J. Hoda, J. Striessnig, R. Marksteiner, S. Hering and M. A. Maw (2005) A CACNA1F mutation identified in an X-linked retinal disorder shifts the voltage-dependence of Cav1.4 channel activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 102: 7553-7558.

P. Osborne, P.K. Dearden (2005) Expression of Pax Group III genes in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera). Development, Genes and Evolution. 215: 499-508.

P. Osborne, P.K. Dearden (2005) Non-radioactive in situ hybridisation to honeybee embryos and ovaries. Apidologie 36: 113-118.

M.J. Denton, P.K. Dearden, S.J. Sowerby (2003). Physical law not natural selection as the major determinant of biological complexity in the subcellular realm: new support for the pre-Darwinian conception of evolution by natural law. Biosystems 71(3):297-303

P.K. Dearden, M. Grbic´, C. Donly (2003). Vasa expression and Germ Cell Specification in the Spider mite Tetranychus urticaeGenes, Development and Evolution 212: 599-603

P.K. Dearden, C Donly and M Grbic´(2002). Expression of pair-rule gene homologues in a chelicerate: early patterning of the Two-Spotted Spider MiteTetranychus urticaeDevelopment 129(23):5461-5472

C. Chang, P.K. Dearden and M. Akam (2002). Expression of the germ determinant vasa in the grasshopper, Schistocerca gregariaDevelopmental Biology252(1):100-118

P.K. Dearden, M. Akam (2001). Early embryo patterning in the Grasshopper, Schistocerca gregaria; wingless, dpp and caudal expression. Development128(18):3435-3444

N. Lawrence, P.K. Dearden, D. Hartley, J. Roose, H. Clevers, and A. Martinez Arias (2000). A Groucho protein that lacks the WD40 repeats modulates Wingless signalling in Drosophila and reveals dominant repressor properties of dTCF. International Journal of Developmental Biology 44(7):749-756

P.K. Dearden, M. Grbic´, F. Falciani, M. E. Akam (2000). Maternal and Early Zygotic expression of the Hox3/zen gene of the Grasshopper Schistocerca gregariaEvolution and Development 2(5):261-270

P.K. Dearden, M. E. Akam (2000). A role for Fringe in segment morphogenesis but not segment formation in the grasshopper, Schistocerca gregaria.Development, Genes and Evolution 210(7):329-336

P.K. Dearden, M.E. Akam (2000). Segmentation in silico. Nature 406(6792):131-132

P.K. Dearden, M.E. Akam (1999). Developmental evolution: Axial patterning in insects.
Current Biology 26(9):16 R591-4