Research

The forces influencing evolutionary adaptations are undoubtedly governed by historic constraints: an organism’s past constrains its future. To what degree, however, do prior mutations and ancestral phenotypes shape future evolutionary pathways? Did life in the past function or evolve similarly to life today? Did the biology of ancestral organisms, the functions of their proteins or other factors inherently limit their ability to evolve into modern forms?

For decades molecular biologists have improved phylogenetics tools and tested them against known cases of molecular evolution. At the same time, molecular biologists have also developed increasingly sophisticated protein modeling and genome engineering methods. We are in a great position to tackle these challenging questions that will allow us understand life’s fundamental molecular innovations, innovations that are directly and indirectly responsible for maintaining conditions of habitability on our planet’s surface.

In its simplest form, our approach allows us to infer ancestral gene and protein sequences through phylogeny, followed by synthesis and evolution of these sequences in the laboratory and empirically testing hypotheses about how proteins evolved into their specific function. One of our primary goals is to identify how ancestral states of a protein affect cellular behavior by directly engineering an ancient gene inside a modern genome. We then identify the evolutionary steps of these ancient-modern hybrid organisms by subjecting them to laboratory evolution, and directly monitoring any resulting changes within the integrated ancient gene and the rest of the host genome.

We conduct our research activities under two themes:

  1. Molecular Mechanisms of Cellular Evolution
  2. Reconstructing Ancient Phenotypes

Feel free to email us for further information. We always welcome collaboration ideas!

Update: We are hiring, please see Opportunities