Major transitions in evolution (mainly multicellularity). Spatial dynamics of microbial social interactions. Bet hedging. Life cycle evolution. Origin of multicellular development.
The transition to multicellularity was critical for the evolution of of large, complex organisms. However, little is known about how early multicellular organisms arise from unicellular ancestors, or how these relatively simple clusters of cells evolve greater complexity. We address both of these issues using experimental evolution, creating new multicellular life in a test tube.
Using these model systems (and a good bit of mathematical / computational modeling), my lab explores the origin of multicellular development, cellular division of labor, and mechanisms to prevent cell-level evolution from eroding multicellular complexity.
Major transitions in evolution (e.g. multicellularity) are a special case of a more general phenomenon: social evolution. Through collaborations with Brian Hammer (GT Biology), Peter Yunker (GT Physics), and Joshua Weitz (GT Biology), our group examines the spatial dynamics of microbial ecology and evolution.