Paganos Receives Scholar Award to Study Reproductive Superpowers of “Ageless” Sea Star

The sea star can produce hundreds of thousands of eggs over its 35+ year lifespan, making it an ideal research organism to understand lifelong fertility and why humans lost this feature. Credit: Periklis Paganos

Periklis Paganos, a postdoctoral scientist in the Zak Swartz lab in the MBL’s Bell Center, has received a postdoctoral scholar award from the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity & Equality (GCRLE) at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Paganos’s award category supports “imaginative junior scientists who are future leaders in the field of reproductive longevity and equality,” the GCRLE stated in announcing 28 grant recipients “who share a vision of advancing research to better understand the underlying causes of female reproductive aging.”

The Swartz lab works with sea stars (Patiria miniata), an extremely fertile research organism, ultimately to gain insight into why human fertility declines with age. As Paganos describes his project:

“An animal’s ability to reproduce depends on physiological and environmental factors. In humans, there is a biologically established reproductive window dictated by the quality of sperm and oocytes (eggs).

"Females are born with a reserve of eggs that, after puberty, mature and are released on a monthly cycle to be available for fertilization. Apart from the limited number of available oocytes, their number continuously decreases with age. Oocyte aging is a complex process that is highly dependent on the crosstalk between specialized cells within the ovary.

"We aim to shed light on these mechanisms by using an experimentally accessible system that presents an extreme case of fertility: the sea star. Sea stars are incredibly fertile creatures, able to produce hundreds of thousands of eggs over their 35+ year lifespan. This makes them an ideal model to understand why humans lost the feature of life-long fertility, and whether it is possible to take advantage of this knowledge to improve human reproductive health and aging.

"Unlike humans, sea stars don't seem to experience a decline in fertility as they age. What makes sea stars so different? We will use newly developed molecular tools to identify cell types present in the ovary as well as to understand the cellular mechanisms taking place during oocyte development.

Periklis Paganos Credit.jpg
MBL Postdoctoral Scientist Periklis Paganos. Photo credit: Jamie MacKinnon

"Comparing our findings with those from other organisms will enable us to identify similarities and differences between the ‘ageless’ sea star and the ‘aging’ human ovary. This exploration will provide an entirely new understanding of how and why human reproductive aging happens.”

Periklis joined the MBL in 2023. Previously, he was a postdoctoral scientist in the Arnone lab at Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Naples, Italy). He received his PhD on cell type diversity and evolution during sea urchin development in 2021 through the joint PhD program between Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn and The Open University (Milton Keynes, United Kingdom). His doctoral work was supported by the Evocell- ITN Marie Sklodowska Curie Network.