Dr. April Hill

Professor of Biology
Chair, Department of Biology


We use marine and freshwater sponges as model systems to ask questions about the genetics and development of animal evolution and symbioses. Sponges are ancient animals that retain characteristics of an early experiment in multicellularity while also sharing some highly conserved features with other metazoans; these unique features provide a system in which to explore hypotheses about the evolution of animals. Research in our lab focuses the role of conserved developmental control genes and gene networks that originated prior to advent of animal adaptations such as tissues and nervous systems. We also work on elucidating the genetic pathways involved in the evolution of animal symbioses and their role in sponge development.

Grants and Fellowships

National Science Foundation, Integrative Organismal Systems, 2016-2019 “Collaborative Research: RUI: Evaluating the molecular genetic pathways responsible for stable host:symbiont interactions in sponge:algal associations.” (Co-PI with M. Hill and J. Weisz)

National Science Foundation, Emerging Frontiers, Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education 2013-2014 “EAGER: Raising Awareness of PULSE Through a Targeted Public Awareness Campaign to Engage Life Science Departments in Implementing Vision and Change.” (Co-PI with William Davis, PI, Judy Awong-Taylor and Richard Cardullo).

Vision and Change Leadership Fellow (2012-2013) - Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE). PULSE is a joint effort by National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health/NIGMS (NIH/NIGMS) and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to stimulate systemic changes within biology departments at all types of post-secondary educational institutions, based upon the findings from the 2011 report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action.

Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (German Electron Synchrotron; DESY) for use of new high brilliance 3rd Generation Synchrotron Radiation Source -Petra III. 2012 “Integrative functional genetic study of developmental genes in early evolved multicellular animals.” (Co-PI with Dr. Jörg U. Hammel, Germany).

National Science Foundation, DEB Assembling the Tree of Life 2008-2013 “Collaborative Research: AToL: PorToL – The Porifera Tree of Life.”

Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust, 2007, 2008-11. “Development of a ‘Model Sponge System’ to Study the Evolution of Early Animal Body Plans and Sensory Systems.”

National Science Foundation, OCE, 2007-2011 “RUI: Stability and structure of temperate and tropical marine sponge symbiont communities in response to climate change.”


State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. 2016

University of Richmond, Advisor Excellence Award. 2014

University of Richmond, Outstanding Mentor Award. 2014

Vision and Change PULSE Leadership Fellow. 2012-present

Endowed Chair. Clarence E. Denoon Jr., Professorship of Science. 2009-2015

University of Richmond, Distinguished Educator Award, August 2008

Coston Family Fellow in Molecular Biology, University of Richmond, 2004-2009


SENCER Center for Innovation-Southwest Regional Symposium. February 2017 (Denton, TX) Expanding Civic Capacity: Connecting learning to real-world issues through teacher preparation and faculty development. Opening plenary speaker.
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. January 2017 (New Orleans, LA) “Methylation and chromatin remodeling complex from sponges to humans.” B. Kornegay, J. Cramer, D. Pohlmann, F. Gomez, L. Mark, C. Hall, E. Iraliev-Perez, N.M. Walavalkar, M.J. Sperlazza, J.W. Prokop, D.C. Williams, A. Hill.
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. January 2017 (New Orleans, LA) “Secreted frizzled related protein is a putative downstream target of PaxB in the freshwater sponge, Ephydatia muelleri.” C. Hall, M. Rodriguez, A. Wei, E. Wictor, A, Gazi, J. Garcia, G. Gentile, A. Rivera, A. Hill.
SENCER Summer Institute. Plenary Speaker. July/Aug 2016 (Chicago, IL) “SENCER: Transforming STEM for majors, and it’s about time, too.”
30th Annual Symposium of the Protein Society. Invited Speaker. July 2016 (Baltimore, MD) “Moving from surviving to thriving: Transforming the first year STEM curriculum.”
Southeast Regional PULSE Institute, Plenary Speaker. June 2016 (Greenville, SC) “Moving from surviving to thriving: Transforming the first year STEM curriculum.”
Southeast Regional PULSE Institute, Workshop Leader. June 2016 (Greenville, SC) “Integrated, Interdisciplinary, and Inclusive 1st Year Science Courses.” with K. Hoke, C. Hoke, and W. Case.
University of California, Los Angeles, Invited Workshop. May 2016 (Los Angeles, CA) “Development, Implementation and Outcomes of an Integrated Science Curriculum for First-Year STEM Students.”
University of California, Los Angeles, Invited Seminar. May 2016 (Los Angeles, CA) “Evolutionary origins and function of animal specific gene regulatory networks: insights from the sponges.”
45th Annual Benthic Ecology Meeting. March 2016 (Portland, ME) "Exploring factors favoring coevolutionary specialization: Agent based and deterministic modeling with tests involving sponge:Symbiodinium symbioses” M. Hill, G. Fundakowski*, T. Heist*, C. Hughes*, N. Rahman*, S. Toolsidass*, T. Wang*, A. Hill, B. Lawson, J.W. Cain.
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. January 2016 (Portland, OR) “Role of the Rho-Rock Pathway in Sponge Morphogenesis.” A. Hill, Q. Schenkelaars, C. Hall*, O. Quintero, L. Fierro-Constain, E. Renard, C. Borchiellini.
Winter Simulation Conference. November 2015 (San Diego, CA) “An Agent-Based Simulation Model of Sponge: Algae Symbiotic Relationships.” B. Lawson, M. Hill, A. Hill, T. Heist*, and C. Hughes*.
AAC&U Crossing Boundaries: Transforming STEM Education. November 2015 (Seattle, WA) “Moving Mountains: Lessons from Twenty Institutions Engaged in Department-Wide Undergraduate STEM Education Reform.” E. Goldey, C. Finelli, S. Musante, J.Awong-Taylor, M. Brown, A. Hill.
AAC&U Crossing Boundaries: Transforming STEM Education. November 2015 (Seattle, WA) “URISE: University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience.” A. Hill, C. Parish, K. Hoke, L. Runyen-Janecky.
Wofford College, Invited Workshop. October 2015 (Spartanburg, SC) “We all rise in URISE: An integrated model for student success in STEM.
Wofford College, Invited Seminar. October 2015 (Spartanburg, SC) “How did Sponge Bob get his eyes? Tales of gene networks that set the stage for animal evolution.”
Beckman Scholars Program. August 2015 (Irvine, CA) “Investigating Intracellular Symbiont Dynamics in Sponge:Symbiodinium Relationships.” T. Heist*, C. Hughes*, A. Hill, B. Lawson, M. Hill.
Gordon Research Conference: Undergraduate Biology Education Research. July 2015 (Bates College, ME) “Moving Mountains: The Impact of the Southeastern Regional PULSE Initiative on Twenty Diverse Institutions Engaged in Department-Wide Undergraduate Biology Reform.” E. Goldey, K. Aguirre, J. Awong-Taylor, H. Belmont, J. Choi, C. Finelli, C. Harmon, A. Hill, N. Jacob, M. Lee-Brown, S. Musante, S. Romano, M. Smith.
HHMI Constellation Studio for Science Education: Adapting Promising Practices and Promoting Institutuional Change. June 2015 (Chevy Chase, MD) “University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience (URISE): A Comprehensive Model for Inclusion and Persistence.” A. Hill, K. Hoke, C. Parish, L. Runyen-Janecky.
3rd Annual INSPIRE Scientific Teaching Seminar Keynote Speaker. May 2015 (Rutgers University, NJ) “What is your vision for change?: Harnessing the capacity and creativity of life science departments to transform student learning experiences. A. Hill
Association for Southeastern Biologists Annual Meeting. April 2015 (Chattanooga, TN) “Crafting and implementing a shared vision for department-wide improvement of Undergraduate Life Sciences Education.” A. Hill with Southeastern PULSE Fellows.

2nd International Symposium on Sponge Microbiology. October 2014 (Baltimore, MD) “Modeling establishment of intracellular symbiont populations: a case study informed by sponge:symbiodinium relationships.” T. Heist*, C. Hughes*, A. Hill, B. Lawson, M. Hill.

XVII Iberian Symposium on Marine Biology. September 2014 (Gijón, Asturias) “Effects of ROCK Inhibitor on the Rho-Rock Pathway in E. muelleri.” Q. Schenkelaars, L. Fierro-Constain, E. Renard, C. Borchiellini, A. Hill.

Southeast Regional PULSE Institute. June 2014 (Richmond, VA) “Integrated and Interdisciplinary 1st year Course Models: Partnering with other STEM Disciplines to Transform your Life Science Department’s Curriculum.” Workshop with L. Runyen-Janecky, W. Case, K. Hoke, A.Hill and Richmond students.

Evolution Conference. June 2014 (Raleigh, NC) “Identification of downstream targets of the Pax gene in the sponge Ephydatia muelleri.” A. Rivera, N. Haberkern*, A. Arul Nambi Rajan*, D. Posfai*, A. Hill.

Association for Southeastern Biologists Annual Meeting. April 2014 (Spartanburg, SC) “Facilitating Department Level Curricular Change in the Life Sciences. Workshop with SE PULSE Fellows.



*denotes undergraduate coauthor

J. Cramer, D. Pohlmann*, F. Gomez, L. Mark*, B. Kornegay*, C. Hall, N. Walavalkar, S. Bilinovich, J. Prokop, A. Hill, D. Williams (2016) Methylation specific targeting of a chromatin remodeling complex from sponges to humans. Scientific Reports. 7:40674.

Q. Schenkelaars, O. Quintero, C. Hall, L. Fierro-Constain, E. Renard, C. Borchiellini, A. Hill (2016) ROCK inhibition abolishes the establishment of the aquiferous system in Ephydatia muelleri (Porifera, Demospongiae). Developmental Biology. 412: 298-310.

B. Lawson, M. Hill, A. Hill, T. Heist*, and C. Hughes*. (2015) An Agent-Based Simulation Model of Sponge: Algae Symbiotic Relationships. Proceedings of the 2015 Winter Simulation Conference. Pp. 1012-1013.

Q. Schenkelaars, L. Fierro-Constain, E. Renard, A. Hill, C. Borchiellini (2015) Insights in Frizzled evolution and new perspectives. Evolution and Development. 17: 160-169.

A. Riesgo, K. Peterson, C. Richardson*, T. Heist*, B. Strehlow*, M. McCauley*, C. Cotman*, M. Hill, A. Hill (2014) Transcriptomic analysis of differential host gene expression upon uptake of symbionts: as case study with Symbiodinium and the major bioeroding sponge Cliona varians. BMC Genomics. 15: 376.

E. Poppell, J. Weisz, L. Spicer, A. Massaro*, A. Hill, M. Hill (2014) Ecological structure of bacterial symbiont communities in high- & low-microbial abundance sponges and their effect on sponge heterotrophic capacity. Marine Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/maec.12098.

B. Thacker, A. Hill, M. Hill, N. Redmond, A.G. Collins, C. Morrow, L. Spicer, C. Hall*, D. Pohlmann*, C. Carmack, M. Zappe, P. Bangalore (2013) Nearly complete 28S rRNA gene sequences confirm new hypotheses of sponge evolution. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 53: 373-387. (journal cover)

A. Rivera, I. Winters*, A. Rued*, S. Ding*, D. Posfai*, B. Cieniewicz*, K. Cameron, L. Gentile, A. Hill (2013) The evolution and function of the Pax/Six regulatory network in sponges. Evolution and Development 15: 198-208.

M. Hill, A. Hill, J. Lopez, K.J. Peterson, S. Pomponi, C. Diaz, R. Thacker, M. Adamska, N. Boury-Esnault, P. Cardenas, A. Chaves-Fonnegra, E. Danka*, B. DeLaine*, D. Formica, E. Hajdu, G. Lobo-Hajdu, S. Klontz, C. Morrow, J. Patel, B. Picton, D. Pisani, D. Pohlmann*, N. Redmond, J. Reed, S. Richey*, A. Riesgo, E. Rubin, Z. Russell*, K. Rutzler, E. Sperling, M. di Stefano*, J. Tarver, A. Collins (2013) Reconstruction of Family-level phylogenetic relationships within Demospongiae (Porifera) using nuclear encoded housekeeping genes. PLoS ONE. 8: e50437.

C. Richardson*, M. Hill, C. Marks, L. Runyen-Janecky, A. Hill (2012) Experimental manipulation of sponge:bacterial symbiont community composition with antibiotics: sponge cell aggregates as a unique tool to study animal:microbe symbiosis. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. 81: 407-418.

M. Hill and A. Hill (2012) The magnesium inhibition and arrested phagosome hypotheses: new perspectives on the evolution and ecology of Symbiodinium symbioses. Biological Reviews. 87: 804-821.

L. Gentile, L. Caudill, M. Fetea, A. Hill, K. Hoke, B. Lawson, O. Lipan, M. Kerckhove, C. Parish, K. Stenger, D. Szajda (2012) Challenging disciplinary boundaries in the first-year: A new introductory integrated science course for STEM majors. Journal of College Science Teaching. In press. (Pedagogical Publication)

A. Rivera, J. Hammel, K. Haen, E. Danka*, B. Cieniewicz*, I. Winters*, D. Posfai*, G. Wörheide, D. Lavrov, S. Knight, M. Hill, A. Hill, and M. Nickel (2011) RNA interference in marine and freshwater sponges: actin knockdown in Tethya wilhelma and Ephydatia muelleri by ingested dsRNA expressing bacteria. BMC Biotechnology, 11: 67.  (Highly accessed)

M. Hill, A. Allenby*, B. Ramsby*, C. Schönberg and A. Hill (2011) Symbiodinium diversity among host clionaid sponges from Caribbean and Pacific Reefs: evidence of heteroplasmy and putative host-specific symbiont lineages. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.  59: 81-88.

K. Holstien*, A. Rivera, S. Ding*, P. Windsor, S. Leys, M. Hill and A. Hill (2010) Expansion, Diversification, and Expression of T-box Family Genes in Porifera. Development, Genes, and Evolution. 220: 251-262.

L. Caudill, A. Hill, K. Hoke, and O. Lipan  (2010) Impact of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research in Mathematics and Biology in the Development of a New Course Integrating Five STEM Disciplines. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 9: 212-216. (Pedagogical Publication)

A. Hill, W. Boll, C. Ries, L. Warner*, M. Osswalt*, M. Hill and M. Noll (2010) Origin of Pax and Six gene families in sponges: Single PaxB and Six1/2 orthologs in Chalinula loosanoffi. Developmental Biology 343: 106-123.

B. West*, J. Brandt*, K. Holstien*, A. Hill, and  M. Hill (2009) Fern-associated arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are represented by multiple Glomus spp.: do environmental factors influence partner identity? Mycorrhiza 19: 295-304.

N. Lemoine*, N. Buell*, A. Hill, and M. Hill. (2007) Assessing the utility of sponge microbial symbiont communities as models to study global climate change: a case study with Halichondria bowerbanki. p. 419-425. In: Hajdu, E., and G. Muricy (eds.). Porifera Research: Biodiversity, Innovation, and Sustainability.

M. Hill, A. Hill, N. Lopez* and O. Harriott (2006) Sponge-specific bacterial symbionts in the Caribbean sponge, Chondrilla nucula. Marine Biology. 148: 1221-1230.

A. Hill, J. Tetrault*, and M. Hill (2004) Isolation and expression analysis of a poriferan Antp-class BarX/Bsh-like homeobox gene. Development, Genes and Evolution. 214 (10): 515-523.

A. Hill, A. Wagner*, and M. Hill (2003) Hox and paraHox genes from the anthozoan Parazoanthus parasiticus. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 28: 529-535.

M. Hill, and A. Hill (2002) "Morphological Plasticity in the tropical sponge Anthosigmella varians:  responses to predators and wave energy" Biological Bulletin. 202: 86-95.

M. Hill, C. Stabile*, L.K. Steffen, and A. Hill (2002) "Toxic Effects of Endocrine Disrupters on Two Species of Freshwater Sponge: Common Developmental Abnormalities." Environmental Pollution. 117: 295-300.


A. Hill and S. Friday* (2015) Gene Regulation. In Molecular Life Sciences. In Molecular Life Sciences, R. D.Wells, J. S. Bond, J. Klinman, B. S. Masters, E. Bell, ed.  (New York: Springer), Pp. 1-14.

S. Leys and A. Hill (2012) The physiology and molecular biology of sponge tissues in Advances in Marine Biology – Advances in Sponge Science: Physiology, Chemical and Microbial Diversity, Biotechnology, M. Beccero et. al., editors – Vol. 62. Pp. 1-56.

M. Hill and A. Hill. (2009) Porifera (sponges). In: G. Likens (ed.) Encyclopedia of Inland Waters. Elsevier Press, Oxford, UK.


Ph.D., University of Houston

B.S., University of North Texas

Contact Information

B-210 Gottwald Center for the Sciences
(804) 484-1591
(804) 289-8233 (Fax)

Areas of Expertise

Gene Regulation and Gene Networks
Evolutionary and Developmental Biology
Genomics and Bioinformatics