Research: The Genetic and Molecular Mechanisms by which Animal Development Evolves
During the past several decades an understanding of how this planet has become populated by animals of spectacular morphological diversity has dramatically benefited from progress in the understanding of how genes govern development. A large body of data has shown that animal diversity largely evolved using a common set of regulatory genes, and the encoded proteins have remained conserved to a point whereby they often function equivalently in distantly related and morphologically diverse organisms. Such functional conservation suggested and since has borne out, that much of animal morphological evolution has resulted from changes in both the developmental expression of these regulatory genes and the number and identity of the genes whose expression they control. Hence, a contemporary challenge is to extend beyond the mere cataloging of evolutionary changes in gene expression towards an understanding of the genetic and molecular mechanisms by which gene expression is regulated during development and how this regulation has evolved.
Our research objectives are to investigate the: 1) mutational paths and molecular mechanisms by which developmental gene expression evolves; 2) relationship of gene regulatory variation within and between species; 3) composition and evolution of genetic networks regulating morphology; and 4) evolution of a transcription factor gene cluster regulating development.