Stomaching flatfish: How hormones regulate flounder stomach development

November 26, 2002

The stomach is an important organ, both physiologically and ecologically. All vertebrates, with very few exceptions, enjoy the benefits of a stomach, which include improved food storage and digestion. However, while the structure and function of the stomach are similar across vertebrate classes, the timing of stomach formation differs significantly.

Dr. Jennifer Specker, URI Graduate School of Oceanography biological oceanographer, has received a three-year, $331,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the development of fish stomachs, specifically those of summer flounder. Specker will test the hypothesis that stomach development is regulated by the sequential action of cortisol and thyroid hormones on cell proliferation and differentiation.

In summer flounder, the stomach begins to develop during metamorphosis. Because flounder metamorphose into flatfish in determinate stages, scientists are able to conduct stage-specific experimentation that is difficult or impossible to achieve otherwise.

Specker's study will correlate the genes that are present in the stomach to the levels of hormones as the organ develops. She will also determine how cortisol and thyroid hormones act and interact with each other during development, as well as how the hormones aid in stomach growth and cell differentiation during the process.

"This research concerns the relationship between a small, delicate marine fish and its environment," said Specker. "In addition, this funding will provide research training and education for students at all levels. I hope that in the long-run we will better understand what differences changes in climate and food availability will make on marine fishes."

The grant will support the research training of a post-doctoral fellow and two undergraduates who will work with high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and staff. Specker's research will take place at the Flounder Facility at the URI Bay Campus in Narragansett where captive broodstock are maintained and spawned year-round. For more information about Jennifer Specker's research on fish endocrinology visit
The URI Graduate School of Oceanography is one of the country's largest marine science education programs, and one of the world's foremost marine research institutions. Founded in 1961 in Narragansett, RI, GSO serves a community of scientists who are researching the causes of and solutions to such problems as acid rain, harmful algal blooms, global warming, air and water pollution, oil spills, overfishing, and coastal erosion. GSO is home to the Coastal Institute, the Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, and the National Sea Grant Library.

University of Rhode Island

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