The breathtaking diversity of life that surrounds us is the underlying inspiration for my lab's research. We have long-standing interests in algal/protist and coral evolution and genomics and specific projects include elucidating the endosymbiotic origin of photosynthetic organelles (plastids), coral biology and conservation, erecting the eukaryotic tree of life, and developing engineering solutions for field monitoring of threatened species.
Key questions that drive ongoing research in our lab are:
1. How do photosynthetic endosymbionts become organelles and how does intracellular gene transfer from the endosymbiont shape nuclear genome evolution?
The long-term goal of this project is to explain the origin of one of the fundamental characters that define eukaryotes, intracellular organelles of foreign origin.
2. What is the origin of the processes and molecular machines that are essential for the integration of plastid (e.g. chloroplast) function with overall cellular function?
Using the expanding genome data, bioinformatics, and experimental methods with the novel photosynthetic organelle in the amoeba lineage, Paulinella, we are providing a detailed model of the integration of the plastid endosymbiont into "host" cell biochemistry.
3. How can we conserve coral reefs and ensure they survive climate change?
We are generating coral genome data and using this information to study the origin and evolution of traits such as their stress response pathways and disease susceptibility using multi-omics and functional tools. We are also building a portable stress monitoring device to monitor coral health in the wild, focusing on our field site in Oahu, Hawaii.
4. What is the framework of the eukaryotic tree of life and how does reticulate gene history impact the evolution of lineages?
Using phylogenetic and phylogenomic approaches we aim to infer an accurate and broadly sampled tree of life for microbial eukaryotes. We are particularly interested in how horizontal gene transfer has allowed eukaryotic genomes to adapt to changing environments.