Arguably the most ubiquitous phenomenon in the living world, sex is a driving force in plant evolution. While most angiosperms reproduce by production of hermaphroditic flowers with both male and female organs, there exists a small fraction of plants that reproduce through dioecy - the condition of having separate male and female individuals. I work primarily in Asparagus, where dioecy is mediated by the presence of a recently evolved, active sex chromosome pair. I am broadly interested in the genomic changes underlying this transition from hermaphroditism to dioecy, as well as functionally characterizing the genes and regulatory elements that control gender determination in Asparagus officinalis. I am also fascinated by the role of polyploidy in plant genome evolution, and the detection of these events through high-throughput mRNA sequencing.
Systematics, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Evolutionary Biology
My research employs genomic, phylogenetic and experimental analyses to investigate the genetic and ecology processes that influence diversification. Specific interests include the molecular genetics of diversification including speciation; the molecular basis of adaptation; the evolution of genome structure; genomic processes influencing gene family evolution; the evolutionary consequences of species interactions; and the coevolution of genes interacting in regulatory and developmental pathways.
Phylogenomics employs genome scale sequence data to resolve organismal relationships and investigate gene family evolution within the context of organismal relationships. Our lab uses phylogenomic approaches to explore the ecological, genetic and developmental processes that contribute to phenotypic diversification and speciation. We focus most of our attention on the evolution of reproductive characters in flowering plants. Much of our research involves phylogenetically based analyses, and we are working with collaborators to develop new empirical and analytical tools to extend the use of phylogenetic methods in comparative genomics. These tools form the foundation for comparative studies aimed at testing the degree to which characterizations of gene function and regulatory networks in model systems are applicable to other plant species.