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What Do We Study?

The shape of a bird’s beak or a whale’s flipper contains information not only about the organ’s function but also about its history. Similarly, information stored in DNA includes not only instructions about a cell’s function or the transformation of an egg into an embryo, but also a record, imperfect to be sure, of the organism’s biological past, and its history of change and adaptation. Far from the prevailing notion of the genome as a “blueprint”, the DNA of any organism more likely resembles a continually edited palimpsest, assembled over 3.5 billion years, whose sequence of letters contains important clues to major organism features that are largely yet to be deciphered.

In the Rokas lab, we study the DNA record to gain insight into the patterns and processes of evolution as well as to understand the evolution of the eukaryotic genome. We do so using both computational and experimental approaches to address three major questions:

I. How did human pregnancy evolve?

II. What are the molecular foundations of the fungal lifestyle?

III. How can we elucidate the tree of life?

We are working with several different lineages that span life’s diversity, but predominantly on mammals, fungi, insects and plants. Because, many of the approaches we employ to study these themes are novel and unfamiliar to biologists in general, we also investigate their utility for understanding the function and evolution of the genomes of non-model organisms and lineages.