ZINC FINGER DUPLICATION
FACE-TO-FACE WITH EVOLUTION
Mouse facial structure under selective pressures:
Morphology can evolve very rapidly in populations, which can lead to novel adaptations in response to environmental changes. As a current postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Diethard Tautz at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, I am aiming to validate the functions of genes that are responsible for controlling skull and mandible structure during rodent development, and how those features are impacted by evolutionary pressures.
DNA THAT’S WRAPPED AROUND YOUR FINGER
Regulation of neurogenesis by zinc finger duplication:
My PhD thesis research with Dr. Lisa Stubbs at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology investigated the roles of ZNF286A, a Krüppel-type zinc finger transcription factor that regulates the differentiation of neural precursor cells in critical neuronal and developmental pathways as it winds around the DNA molecule. These pathways are implicated in microcephaly, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders. While ZNF286A occurs as a unique gene in all other species, a gene duplication event in very recent primate history created a human-specific duplicate called ZNF286B, permitting this ancient mammalian gene to take on novel functions in the adult human brain.
THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Molecular roots of the social brain:
During my PhD studies, I collaborated on a multi-disciplinary project investigating the neuromolecular basis of social behavior across species, utilitzing mice, stickleback fish, and bees as models. Just as there is diversity in the physical structure of animals, there is great variation in the structure of their social interactions with other members of their own species (ie. aggression, mate selection, care of young). Despite being separated by hundred of millions of years, it is clear that these behaviors are guided by deeply conserved neural biochemistry lying on the same gene networks. I focused mainly on the behavioral and molecular affects of aggression and maternal care in mice.
UPROOTING THE FAMILY TREE
Annotating the ancient origins of fold superfamily domain functions:
During my BA and beyond, I have worked on a number of projects in evolutionary bioinformatics with both Dr. Gustavo Caetano-Anollés and Dr. Jay Mittenthal, looking at the evolution of protein domain structure and their emergence in very early planetary history as a result of Earth's early chemistry in the ancient oceans. My BA research with Dr. Jay E. Mittenthal involved annotating the fold superfamily domain functions or known proteins using phylogenetic and protein fold architecture data available in published databases.