Research

You’ve probably been taught that evolution is a very slow process, yet we know of many examples in which organisms adapt very quickly. This rapid adaptation might be disastrous in the case of antibiotic resistance across a bacterial population or evolution of the HIV population within a person to evade treatment. Other time we might be rooting for rapid adaptation–helping a threatened species arrest a nosedive into extinction, for example, or allowing a parasite to infect and slow the spread of an invasive species. But how can we predict and understand what factors set the pace of adaptation? My lab tackles this question from a number of angles; here’s snapshots of a few.

Predicting Evolution with Phenotypic Models

With collaborators in the Marx, Martinez-Gomez, and Dalia labs, we’re fitting data to a model of metabolism in a model bacterium to understand gene interactions, explain the phenotypic bases of fitness, and ultimately predict outcomes of evolution experiments in the lab. See Chou, Delaney, Draghi & Marx (2014) for an early publication on this work. I have an open postdoc position to work on this project; click here for application details.

Evolvability as a mediator of generalist-specialist competition

A species’ niche–its place in an ecosystem–is not fixed, but evolves and responds to change across that species’ community. Evolution of the species and its competitors, prey, predators, parasites, or hosts, all work to dynamically shape the niche, and past evolution provides a historical framing for why a species functions as it does today. We tackle these complex issues with models combining ecology and evolution. In a recent pair of papers, we looked at how intrinsic noise in development can smooth fitness landscapes to allow plastic generalists to flourish, and how environmental noise across a spatial landscape can shape competition between generalists and specialists. We’re continuing to push toward a theoretical understanding of how evolvability differences shape communities and are expanded to test these theories with lab experiments with microbes.