Skip to main content

Lauren Sumner-Rooney

Dr. Lauren Sumner-Rooney


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

PhD Biological Sciences – Queen’s University Belfast, 2015


Research interests

My research focusses on the function and evolution of visual and nervous systems in invertebrates. These systems are staggeringly diverse, and they not only have profound behavioural, ecological and evolutionary impacts, but biological visual solutions are also often far more advanced than our closest technological mimics.

Despite this, the nature and function of light sensors remain mysterious in many animal groups, especially in non-arthropod invertebrates. One focus of my PhD was the characterisation of a new photoreceptor in chitons, the Schwabe organ, using a combination of microscopic techniques, behavioural experiments, and electrophysiology (see Sigwart et al. 2014, Sumner-Rooney and Sigwart 2015). I also initiated a study of the structure and capabilities of the unique visual system of the brittle star Ophiocoma wendtii at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, which went on to form the basis of my first post doc at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. Again, tomography and behaviour form core parts of this project, alongside immunolabelling, comparative anatomy and RNA-seq in order to discover what O. wendtii is capable of seeing, and how this ability might have evolved.

Another key area of my research concerns the evolution of nervous and visual systems. The evolution of eyes is understandably affected by diverse light environments and required visual tasks. I am investigating eye loss in a family of deep-sea gastropods in partnership with Dr Suzanne Williams at the Natural History Museum, London, and in September 2017 will take up a museum research fellowship studying the evolution of eyes and vision in spiders at the University of Oxford. Nervous system architecture has the capacity to teach us a lot about deep evolutionary relationships between diverse groups of animals, as well as their interactions with their environments, and I am using comparative anatomy in molluscan nervous systems as a model to test this.


Research experience

From September 2017 – Museum research fellow, Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

2016-2017 – Postdoctoral research fellow, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

2015-2016 – Research technician and science communicator, Royal Veterinary College, London.

2015 – Visiting researcher, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.


Selected publications

Sumner-Rooney LH, Sigwart JD. 2017. Lazarus in the museum: resurrecting historic specimens through new technology. Invertebrate Zoology. 14, 1:73-84.

Sigwart JD, Sumner-Rooney LH, Dickey J, Carey N. 2016. The scaphopod foot is ventral: more anatomical evidence from Rhabdus rectius (Carpenter, 1864) (Dentaliida: Rhabdidae). Molluscan Research. DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2011.628301.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Sigwart JD, McAfee J, Smith L, Williams ST. 2016. Repeated eye reduction events show contrasting morphological features in a family of marine snails. Evolution. 70, 10: 2268-2295.

Sigwart JD and Sumner-Rooney LH. 2015. Mollusca: Caudofoveata, Monoplacophora, Polyplacophora, Scaphopoda, Solenogastres. In: Structure and Evolution of Invertebrate Nervous Systems, pp.172-190. Eds. Schmidt-Rhaesa A, Harzsch S, Purschke G. Oxford University Press.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Schrödl M, Lodde-Bensch E, Lindberg DR, Heβ M, Brennan GP, Sigwart JD. 2015. A neurophylogenetic approach provides new insight to the evolution of Scaphopoda. Evolution and Development. 17, 6: 337-346.

Sumner-Rooney LH, Sigwart JD. 2015. 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. PLoS ONE. 10:9. e0137119.

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

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.


Selected grants


Museum Research Fellowship, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Disentangling the web: eyes and brains in spiders as a new evolutionary paradigm?

Museum für Naturkunde Innovationsfond. Discovering the building blocks of a dispersed visual system using RNA-seq in Ophiocoma.

Museum für Naturkunde Innovationsfond. Can brittle stars ‘see’? Phototaxis and visual behaviour in ophiuroids.

Short-term fellowship, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Photoreception and visual behaviour in Ophiocoma.


DAAD-Leibniz Post-doctoral Research Fellowship. Photoreception and its evolution in the genus Ophiocoma (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea).

Divisional funding, Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. Symposium ‘Evolution in the dark: unifying our understanding of eye loss’.


Synthesys Access grant, European Commission. Breathing new life into historic specimens: the potential of molluscan neurophylogeny explored using 100-year-old chitons.

Ernst Mayr short-term fellowship, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Photoreception in Ophiocoma wendtii.



2016 – Nominee, Malacological Society of London Annual Award.

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.


Contact Information


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

Web tools

Bookmark and Share -->