Nicola Illing


Level 6


Professor Nicola Illing
Evolution of development | Telephone +27 21 650 2414 | Facsimile +27 21 650 1861

My primary research interest is to use the tools of modern genetics to unravel the answers to interesting evolutionary biology questions, using examples from the rich biological landscape of southern Africa.   Genetic analysis of organisms that are currently alive can be used to delve into the past, for example, understanding how flight evolved in bats  50 million years ago.  Similarly, we are using next generation sequencing technology to understand how vegetative desiccation tolerance evolved in flowering plants and the genetic basis for the recent (i.e. in the last 5-8 million years) radiation of the morphologically diverse Ruschioideae family, which consists of more than 1600 succulent plant species. 

Publications (2005-2016)

Eckalbar WL , Schlebusch SA,  Mason MK, Gill Z, Parker AV,  Booker  BM, Nishizaki S,  Muswamba-Nday C, Terhune  E, Nevonen  K,  Makki N,   Friedrich T, VanderMeer JE, Pollard KS, Carbone L, Wall JD, Illing N, Ahituv N. (2016) Epigenomic and transcriptomic characterization of the developing bat wing. Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/ng.3537
Breen MS, Uhlmann A, Nday CM, Glatt SJ, Mitt M, Metsalpu A, Stein DJ, Illing N (2016) Candidate gene networks and blood biomarkers of methamphetamine-associated psychosis: an integrative RNA-sequencing report. Translational Psychiatry. 6:e802. doi: 10.1038/tp.2016.67
Booker B, Friedrich T, Mason MK, VanderMeer JE, Zhao J, Eckalbar WL, Logan M, Illing N, Pollard KS, Ahituv N. (2016) Bat accelerated regions identify a bat forelimb specific enhancer in the HoxD locus, PLoS Genetics.

Mason MK, Hockman D, Curry L, Cunningham TJ, Duester G, Logan M, Jacobs DS, and Illing N (2015) Retinoic acid-independent expression of Meis2 during autopod patterning in the developing bat and mouse limb. EvoDevo 10.1186/s13227-015-0001-y

Lyall R, Ingle RA and Illing N (2014) The Window of Desiccation Tolerance Shown by Early-Stage Germinating Seedlings Remains Open in the Resurrection Plant, Xerophyta viscosa. PLoS ONE 9(3): e93093

Tonnabel J, Mignot A, Douzery EJ, Rebelo AG, Schurr FM, Midgley J, Illing N, Justy F, Orcel D, and Olivieri I (2014) Convergent and correlated evolution of major life-history traits in the angiosperm genus Leucadendron (proteaceae). Evolution.68(10):2775-92. doi: 10.1111/evo.12480.

Schlebusch S, Illing N. 2012. Next Generation Shotgun Sequencing and the challenges of de Novo Genome Assembly. SA J Science. 108: 8 pages http:// v108i11/12.1256

Ravasi DF, O'Riain MJ, Davids F, Illing N (2012) Phylogenetic Evidence That Two Distinct Trichuris Genotypes Infect both Humans and Non-Human Primates. PLoS ONE 7(8): e44187. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044187

Mason MK, Hockman D, Jacobs DS, Illing N. (2010) Evaluation of maternal features as indicators of asynchronous embryonic development in Miniopterus natalensis. Acta Chiropterologica 12, 161-171

van Heerden JH, Russell V, Korff A, Stein DJ, Illing N. (2010) Evaluating the behavioural consequences of early maternal separation in adult C57BL/6 mice; the importance of time. Behav Brain Res. 207, 332-342

Midgley JJ, Illing N. (2009) Were Malagasy Uncarina fruits dispersed by the extinct elephant bird? SA J Science 105, 467-469

van Heerden J, Conesa A, Stein D, Montaner D, Russell V, Illing N. (2009) Parallel changes in gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and the brain after maternal separation in the mouse. BMC Research Notes 2, 195.

Illing N, Klak C, Johnson C, Brito D, Negrao N, Baine F, van Kets V, Ramchurn KR, Seoighe C, Roden L. (2009) Duplication of the Asymmetic Leaves1/Rough Sheath 2/Phantastica (ARP) gene precedes the explosive radiation of the Ruschioideae. Development, Genes, and Evolution 219, 331-338

Hockman D, Mason MK, Jacobs DS, Illing N. (2009) The role of early development in mammalian limb diversification, a descriptive comparison of early limb development between the Natal long-fingered bat (Miniopterus natalensis) and the mouse (Mus musculus). Developmental Dynamics 238, 965-79

Hockman D, Cretekos CJ, Mason MK, Behringer RR, Jacobs DS, Illing N. 2008 A second wave of Sonic hedgehog expression during the development of the bat limb. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 105:16982-7.

Mulako I, Farrant JM, Collett H, Illing N. 2008. Expression of Xhdsi-1VOC, a novel member of the vicinal oxygen chelate (VOC) metalloenzyme superfamily, is up-regulated in leaves and roots during desiccation in the resurrection plant Xerophyta humilis (Bak) Dur and Schinz. J Exp Bot. 59:3885-901.

Ingle RA, Collett H, Cooper K, Takahashi Y, Farrant JM, Illing N. 2008. Chloroplast biogenesis during rehydration of the resurrection plant Xerophyta humilis: Parallels to the etioplast-chloroplast transition. Plant Cell Environ. 31: 1813-1824

van Heerden, J, S-A Walford, A Shen and N. Illing. 2007 A framework for the informed normalization of printed microarrays. South African Journal of Science. 103: 381-390

Flanagan, CA, CC Chen, M Coetsee, S. Mamputha, K.E. Whitlock, N. Bredenkamp, L. Grosenick, R.D. Fernald, and N. Illing. 2007 Expression, structure, function and evolution of GnRH receptors GnRH-R1SHS and GnRH-R2PEY in the teleost, Astatotilapia burtoni. Endocrinology. 148: 5060-5071

Regad, T., M. Roth, N. Bredenkamp, N. Illing and N. Papalopulu. 2007. The neural progenitor-specifying activity of FoxG1 is antagonistically regulated by CKI and FGF. Nature Cell Biology.9:531-540

Bredenkamp, N. C. Seioghe, N. Illing. 2007 Comparative evolutionary analysis of the FoxG1 transcripton factor from diverse vertebrates identifies conserved recognition sites for microRNA regulation. Dev Genes Evol 217:227-33

Stein DJ, Daniels W, Emsley R, Harvey B, Blackburn J, Carey P, Ellis G, Illing N, Flisher A, Moolman-Smook H, Mwaba K, Ramesar R, Russell V, Seedat S, Tredoux C, Vaughan CL, Vythilingum B, Warwick J. 2006 A brain-behaviour initiative for South Africa: the time is right. Metab Brain Dis.21:279-84

Whitlock, K E, N Illing, N Brideau, K Smith and S Twomey. 2006. Development of GnRH cells: setting the stage for puberty. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 254:39-50

Illing, N, K Denby, H Collett, A Shen and JM Farrant. 2005 The signature of seeds in resurrection plants: a molecular and physiological comparison of desiccation tolerance in seeds and vegetative tissues. Integrative & Comparative Biology 45: 771-787
Click here for the full list of my publications (1989-2004)

Lab Members

Postdoctoral fellows
Dorit Hockman

Mandy Mason (PhD; co-supervised by David Jacobs, Dept Zoology)
Rafe Lyall (PhD; co-supervised by Dr Robert Ingle, Dept Molecular and Cell Biology)
Stephen Schlebusch (PhD; co-supervised by Dr Jeff Wall, UCSF)
Zoe Gill (MSc)
Evan Milborrow (MSc)
Ash Parker (MSc)