Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Research Interests: Biology is hierarchically organized. Genes reside within cells, cells within organisms, and organisms within groups. Cooperation between units at each level is necessary for the evolution of collectives further up the hierarchy. However, cooperation incentivizes the evolution of ‘cheaters’ that reap the benefits from the collective without contributing. Cheaters are widespread in biology at each level. They include meiotic drive genes that ensure their preferential transmission, cancer cells that proliferate at the expense of other somatic cells, and individuals who over-exploit communal resources. My lab applies the concepts of cooperation and cheating to the mitochondrial genome, which is subject to selection at multiple levels of the biological hierarchy. Despite its central importance in evolution, multi-level selection has proven extremely challenging to study empirically. Consequently, our work can provide broadly applicable biological insights. Equally importantly, there is a critical gap in our knowledge of the principles that govern transmission of mitochondrial mutations across generations from mother to offspring. Our work promises to fill this gap, with direct implications for understanding mitochondrial disease inheritance.
Keywords: mitochondria, adaptive evolution, genetic conflict, selfish DNA, female reproduction, disease inheritance