Much of our work focuses on host-parasite coevolution both computationally using populations of self-replicating computer programs (sort of like computer viruses), and experimentally in the lab with bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophage). But that's not all! We're deeply interdisciplinary, and broadly interested in ecology and evolution.
The Coevolutionary Origins of Complexity
Using Avida, an artificial life platform, we're studying how host-parasite coevolution drives the evolution of complexity, diversity, and evolvability.
Unraveling Coevolutionary Feedbacks
Is it possible to manipulate coevolving communities to directly test how feedback influences adaptation? Focusing on E. coli and bacteriophage for this project, we're building custom continuous culture devices that enable experiments that were previously intractable.
Reversing Rate Adaptation
We've recently started using emulsion populations in the lab, where cells are distributed into millions of isolated media droplets surrounded by an immiscible oil phase. For our first project with these emulsions, we're testing how selection reverses thousands of generations of adaptation to an environment favoring faster and faster growth -- Richard Lenski's LTEE.
Modern Fabrication for the Lab
With relatively inexpensive consumer grade equipment, it's now possible to rapidly customize tools for particular experiments. For example, we are 3D printing unique culture devices, milling custom microscope slides, and building electronics with full-fledged microprocessors for less than you would expect to spend on morning coffee.
We're currently looking for fantastic people to join the lab! Keep an eye out for formal advertisements, but feel free to reach out anytime.
I became interested in evolution because of an undergraduate computer science class. It's still amazing to me that we can bottle up evolution in an algorithm, and yet are still just scratching the surface of understanding the biodiversity and complexity it has produced.
One of the challenges is that evolution creates diversity and complexity, which then strongly influences further evolution. Untangling this feedback loop between what evolution produces and what then becomes selectively favorable motivates much of my work. Host-parasite coevolution is a prime instance of this complex feedback loop at what I consider the core of evolutionary biology.
Coming to evolutionary biology via computer science has left its marks on my academic interests. I study host-parasite coevolution using a mixture of computational and microbial experiments. I treat computer systems as another experimental system, much like E. coli and Elephants are two living systems that can be studied in surprisingly similar ways.