Our research connects genome variation to organismal phenotypes and fitness to understand:
- how physiological traits evolve to fit organisms to their ecologies, and
- how evolutionary forces shape the genetic and biochemical pathways underlying physiological change.
The pathways of physiology provide systems of genes that link genetic variation and divergence to whole-organism physiological performance traits, such as development rate, metabolic rate, flight velocity, ethanol tolerance and stress responses. Our research integrates experimental, comparative, quantitative genetic, population genetic/genomic, bioinformatic and classical genetic approaches to link genes to their evolutionarily and ecologically significant function.
Drosophila have a unique ecology, acquiring nutrient resources in habitats ranging from desert cactus rots to ethanol-rich vineyards and using these resources to fuel metabolism during energetically challenging feats, such as larval development and locomotion and adult flight. D. melanogaster also has an interesting natural history, expanding its ancestral range out of the tropics of Africa to inhabit temperate latitudes that experience colder and more variable temperatures. At the same time, these cosmopolitan flies evolved extraordinary ethanol tolerance to exploit a habitat rich in the products of fermentation. We are interested in how this natural history and ecology has led to divergence and plasticity in the pathways that mediate environmental temperature and ethanol.
Drosophila allow us to test predictions from evolutionary theory and from models of physiological ecology in a genetic context, but our approach is not limited to working with this model organism. Members of the lab are encouraged to choose study organisms based on the investigation of physiological adaptations that offer insight into the evolutionary forces shaping genetic and phenotypic variation within and divergence among natural populations.
Some of the physiological systems within which we study the mechanisms of evolution:
- Cellular, physiological and behavioral adaptations to a variable environment
- Causes and consequences of mitochondrial-nuclear coevolution
- Evolutionary genetics of energetics
- Modeling physiological performance as a function of biochemical flux