My lab uses technological advances, largely in sequencing, to understand how organisms respond to biotic changes in their environments. To do this we often use historical or biogeographic collections to study microevolutionary changes, combining field work, laboratory experiments and bioinformatics. We frequently use social insects, especially honey bees as models, and have a big project looking at coevolution between honey bees and their parasites and diseases. In addition, we have a side gig on the molecular evolution of venoms.
Teaching and research achievements
Working with historical material, you need to know who has it, what it is, and what stories it can tell. As a result, I talk to many other researchers who work on particular species, know them well and have samples. Often their stories are irresistible, and as a result I worked with a veritable zoo of organisms, ranging from birds, to stick insects, to Medieval steppe nomads.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I love coming up with new ways to teach. This requires thinking about the same material in different ways, which keeps it exciting. The range of tools available in the classroom has also exploded. I enjoy tinkering with them in an effort to create more engaging and informative content, for example, in a laboratory exercise combining experimental evolution, next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics.
What do you enjoy about research?
My favorite part of research is going to the field to learn about some animal’s amazing natural history. I can then apply modern molecular approaches to delve deeper. DNA and algorithms reveal its past, its secret relationships, and broader insights it can provide into our understanding of biology.
- This profile originally appeared in the RSB Newsletter, Issue 99, July 2018