The diversity of life is the inspiration for my research. What kinds of mutations underlie trait variation? How do they exert their influence on molecular, cellular, and developmental process to affect organismal traits and fitness? What population processes and ecological circumstances favor the persistence of these mutations?
Although the principles of evolutionary biology provide a powerful conceptual framework for understanding the origin of biological diversity, we are only beginning to comprehend its material basis in detail. A particular challenge is understanding how mutations affect organismal traits in mechanistic terms. My research draws on methods from molecular, computational, and evolutionary biology to identify and characterize the influence of mutations that affect organismal traits of ecological significance. This work lies at the interface of evo-devo, evolutionary genomics, and systems biology. Past and current projects range from single genes through gene networks to entire genomes and leverage the biological properties of several model species.
Much of my current work is motivated by the hypothesis, first promoted by King and Wilson in 1975, and supported by comparative genomic analyses, that many of the phenotypic traits distinguishing humans from our closest primate relatives are the result of changes in gene expression rather than functional changes protein-coding sequences.
I am a faculty member in the Department of Biology with a secondary appointment in Evolutionary Anthropology. I oversee the Center for Evolutionary Genomics and the Genome Sequencing & Analysis Core Resource, both within Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. I am actively involved in the Center for Systems Biology and the Primate Genome Initiative at Duke. I also serve on the Editorial Boards of Evolution & Development and the Quarterly Review of Biology and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Organization for Tropical Studies.