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Lauren Sumner-Rooney

Lauren Sumner-Rooney - PhD student

 BA (Hons) Biological Sciences (1st Class) – University of Oxford, 2012


Research interests

My research focusses on sensory systems in invertebrates, with an emphasis on photoreception and vision in molluscs and echinoderms. Currently, I am studying a new photoreceptor in chitons, the Schwabe organ (see Sigwart et al. 2014, Sumner-Rooney and Sigwart in press). By using a combination of microscopic techniques, behavioural experiments, electrophysiology and molecular biology, one of my main aims is to discover the role of the Schwabe organ, and ultimately to learn more about its evolution and development. I have also been studying the structure and capabilities of the visual system of the brittle star Ophiocoma wendtii at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Again, anatomy and behaviour formed core parts of this project, alongside opsin sequencing, immunolabelling and comparative anatomy in order to discover what O. wendtii is capable of seeing, and how this ability might have evolved. Another key personal interest is the evolution of eye loss, which I have been investigating in a family of deep-sea gastropods in partnership with Dr Suzanne Williams at the Natural History Museum, London. My interests also include the architecture and evolution of nervous systems. I have recently contributed to a book on invertebrate nervous systems (see below) and have been awarded SYNTHESYS funding to digitise historic histological sections and use them to study variations in chiton neuroanatomy. Sensory systems have profound implications for many other aspects of the biology of these animals, influencing their evolution, ecology, and potential reactions to anthropogenic stresses, and yet they remain largely under-studied in non-arthropod invertebrate taxa. 



Sumner-Rooney LH, Sigwart JD. Submitted. Is the Schwabe organ a larval eye? Anatomical and behavioural studies of a novel sense organ in Leptochiton asellus (Mollusca, Polyplacophora) indicate links to larval photoreceptors.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Schrödl M, Lodde-Bensch E, Lindberg DR, Heβ M, Brennan GP, Sigwart JD. Submitted. A neurophylogeny approach provides new insight to the evolution of Scaphopoda.

Sigwart JD, Sumner-Rooney LH. Minor Molluscan Classes. In: Structure and Evolution of Invertebrate Nervous Systems. Forthcoming. Oxford University Press.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Murray JA, Cain SD, Sigwart JD. 2014. Do chitons have a compass? Evidence for magnetic sensitivity in Polyplacophora. Journal of Natural History. 48:3033-3045.

Sigwart JD, Sumner-Rooney LH, Schwabe E, Heß M, Brennan GP, Schrödl M. 2014. A new sensory organ in "primitive" molluscs (Polyplacophora: Lepidopleurida) and its context in the nervous system of chitons. Frontiers in Zoology. 11:7.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Cain SD, Brennan GP, Sigwart JD. 2014. A test for mucus removal in the chiton Lepidochitona cinerea (Linnaeus, 1767) (Polyplacophora: Chitonida: Ischnochitonidae). The Veliger. 51:4.


Selected grants

2014 – EU Synthesys Access Grant (5 weeks, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin)

2014 – Ernst Mayr Fellowship ($5,000 USD, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

2014 – Research Award ($1,000 USD, American Microscopical Society)

2014 – Research Award (€750, Unitas Malacologica)

2013 – Research Award (£1,500, Malacological Society of London)

2013 – William and Betty MacQuitty Scholarship (£1,000, MacQuitty Fund)

2013 – Travel Award (£500, Malacological Society of London)

2012 – PhD Studentship (Dept. of Education and Learning, Northern Ireland)

2011 – Laboratory Studentship (£375, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford)

2011 – Travel Award (£500, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford)



2014 – Winner, Best Student Oral Presentation at the 7th Congress of European Malacological Societies, University of Cambridge.

2014 – Winner, Best Oral Presentation at the 11th Annual MBA Postgraduate Conference, University of Hull.

2013 – Runner-up for Best Oral Presentation at the 10th Annual MBA Postgraduate Conference, Aberystwyth University.

2012 – Gibbs Prize in Biological Sciences, University of Oxford.


Professional experience

Visiting researcher, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. Reconstructing digital models of neuroanatomy from historic specimens of chitons. Guest of Dr Thomas von Rintelen (to take place in October-November 2015).

Chair, 12th Annual Marine Biological Association Postgraduate Conference, Queen’s University Belfast.

Visiting PhD researcher, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Testing the responses of the Schwabe organ using electrophysiology. Guest of Dr Euan Brown (Aug 2014).

Visiting PhD researcher, Natural History Museum, London. Studying eye reduction and loss in deep-sea solariellids. Guest of Dr Suzanne Williams (from Nov 2013).

Visiting PhD researcher, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, British Columbia, Canada. Examining scaphopod nervous systems and behaviour. Guest of Dr Nicholas Carey (Sept 2013).

Visiting PhD researcher, Zoologische Staatssammlung München, Germany. Studying the ultrastructure of the Schwabe organ. Guest of Professor Michael Schrödl (Feb-Mar 2013).

Student member of the Professor Adrian Thomas research group, University of Oxford. The effects of vitamin B12 deficiency on senescence in the fish Nothobranchius furzeri (Undergraduate thesis, May 2011-Feb 2012).

Student member of the Professor Alex Rogers research group, University of Oxford. The feeding habits of the teleost fish Beryx decadactylis (July 2011).


Contact Information

Tel:  +44 (0)28 427 28230 (Ext.240)

Mobile: +44 (0)7762 286 236


Room: Queen's University Marine Laboratory, Portaferry - 02004

Contact Information

Queen's University Marine Laboratory (QML)
12-13 The Strand, Portaferry
Co. Down, Northern Ireland, BT22 1PF
Phone: +44 (0)28 427 28230

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