Mitochondrial Function and Evolution
Mitochondria are eukaryotic subcellular compartments (organelles) that play critical roles in diverse cellular processes such as apoptosis, fatty acid oxidation, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis.
Based on relic mitochondrial genomes (mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA), we know that mitochondria descend from endosymbiotic bacteria. However, few mitochondrial proteins are encoded by mtDNA: over 95% are encoded in the nucleus. It is therefore critically important to catalog and characterize these nucleus-encoded proteins in order to fully understand the function and evolution of mitochondria across the breadth of eukaryotic biodiversity.
Our lab combines comparative genomics (genome and transcriptome sequencing), proteomics, molecular genetics, and phylogenetics to answer functional and evolutionary questions about protist mitochondrial proteomes. Currently, we are particularly interested in the anaerobic mitochondria of marine microbes.
Genomics, Symbiosis, Parsitism, and the Tree of Life
Most eukaryotic organisms are unicellular microbes, loosely referred to as 'protists'. Protists make up the bulk of genetic and cell biological diversity among eukaryotes, and exist in a wide variety of environments as microbial predators, primary producers, and parasites. Reconstructing the evolutionary histories of protists through genomics and comparative cell biology has had a profound impact on our understanding of how eukaryotic cells evolved, what their metabolic capacities are, and how the various lineages are related to each other.
Despite their ubiquity, ecological impact, and evolutionary importance, protists are dramatically understudied. But recent advances in high-throughput sequencing have made it much more feasible to reconstruct protist genomes; in fact, it's even possible to generate reasonably good genomes/transcriptomes from single cells! As a result, new species and lineages are being discovered quite often, making it a really exciting time to study protists!
Our lab uses comparative genomics to the genomes of laboratory-cultured and wild-caught protists. We are especially interested in protists with prokaryotic symbionts, marine microbes and parasites, and species occupying novel and interesting positions in the eukaryotic tree of life.