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Figure 1.  A seasonal killifish pool in the Ribeira de Iguape region of São Paulo, Brazil.  The annual fish species Leptopanchax aureoguttatus was collected at this locality. 

 

Figure 2.  "Living Fossils" like this longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseous) illuminate vertebrate evolution with their slowly-evolving, ancestrally unduplicated genomes.  

Research

 

I am an evolutionary biologist working in the area of ecological, and developmental genomics. My research investigates the evolution of adaptations in extreme environments to understand the links between environment, development, and genomic evolution. I integrate molecular phylogenetics, models of molecular evolution, comparative genomics, and functional genomic tools in an Eco-Evo-Devo framework, specifically using tropical killifishes as my primary model system. My central questions are:

 

1.) How do underlying genetic and developmental processes contribute to the evolvability of complex and convergent phenotypes in response to extreme environmental change? 

 

2.) How do gene regulatory networks in vertebrates evolve to give organisms adaptive resilience to perturbations of “normal" physiology and development?

3.) How do gene regulatory networks integrate with environmental signals to create developmental plasticity?

Ongoing Research Projects:

Eco-Evo-Devo of Annual Killifishes:

Killifishes are emerging research models for evolution, development, behavior, cancer, developmental perturbations and aging. This is because annual killifishes have dormant (diapausing) embryos that withstand seasonal habitat (Figure 1) desiccation which results in death of the entire parental population. This annual life history includes the independent, convergent evolution of rapid aging and embryonic dormancy among distantly related lineages of killifishes. I am using annual killifishes and their relatives as a model clade to explore the evolution of developmental phenotypes in extreme environments. 

Developmental Genomics

of "Ancient Fishes":

Most fishes, like killifishes, are decendents from a common ancestor that underwent whole genome duplication.  Consequently, they possess highly diverged paralogous genes that have sub- or neo functionalized.  However, some slowly evolving "Living Fossil" fishes diverged before this genome duplication.  By using living fossils like bowfin (Amia calva) and spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus), I am studying the deep homology of vertebrate developmental phenotypes and the evolutionary consequences of gene and genome duplication. Importantly, the slowly evolving gar and bowfin genomes can be used as stepping stones to find homologous genetic elements between humans and rapidly evolving biomedical fish models like killifishes.