How do complex adaptations evolve?
The natural world is a diverse place. To contend with highly variable environments, organisms have evolved a wide range of traits and behaviours as adaptations to their environment. From armour plating in stickleback to trade-offs between growth rate and cold tolerance in lodgepole pine, organisms have found many different genetic solutions to the challenge of existing in their environment. In my lab, we study a range of questions asking how such complex adaptations evolve:
- How is the genetic basis of local adaptation shaped by the interplay between natural selection and dispersal?
- Does the architecture of genome evolve to facilitate further adaptation?
- How can we use genomic technologies and bioinformatics to study adaptation?
- How do organisms adapt to rapidly changing environments?
To attempt to answer these questions about the basics of how evolution works, we use a combination of computational biology, analytical theory, comparative genomics, and observational and experimental studies of organisms in their natural environment. Study organisms I have worked with include lodgepole pine, white/Engelmann spruce, threespine stickleback and their close relatives, sunflower, and Drosophila.
Genomics and health
Many issues that arise in human health and wellness can be studied as phenotypes that are the result of millions of years of evolution. If we want to understand why there is such variability in the kinds of diseases that affect us, we need to understand how our genomes contribute to healthy phenotypes. With funding from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, my lab is exploring how we can use genomic and bioinformatic techniques to study complex traits. This research will contribute to the growing field of personalized genomics through the development and refinement of statistical tools and our understanding of how they may be applied to detect patterns in the genome.