CURRENT LAB MEMBERS
ARMIN P. MOCZEK, Principal Investigator
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I’m fascinated by how novel complex traits originate in development and evolution. I want to know what it takes genetically, developmentally, and ecologically for novel traits and trait variants to arise from ancestral variation, and how such events may set to stage for subsequent major evolutionary transitions and adaptive radiations. I appreciate all types of organismal diversity, but insects have always been especially fascinating to me. My research employs diverse insect models, but especially horned beetles in the genus Onthophagus, to explore the nature of innovation and diversification in the natural world.
I am deeply fascinated by the morphological diversity that can be found on this planet; and how, bafflingly, so few genes, developmental pathways, and morphogenetic processes suffice to generate seemingly endless shapes and forms. Accordingly, my research interests are rooted in understanding how complex novel traits may arise by deploying old genes and gene networks within new developmental and evolutionary contexts. My current work focuses on the evolutionarily dynamic dorsal head of insects, and the way in which embryonic head patterning genes are co-opted, recruited, and rewired to pattern novel, post-embryonic structures, such as the horns of Onthophagus beetles.
The origin and modification of evolutionary novelties such as butterfly wing patterns or beetle horns are key topics in evolutionary developmental biology. My interests are focused on the mechanisms of the origination and diversification of novel traits. What are the genes, gene classes, and signaling pathways that enable and/or bias innovation in evolution and the phenotypic variation thath underpins it? How do they interact with environmental factors to regulate developmental trajectories and outcomes and account for phenotypic plasticity? I use beetle horns and horned beetles as model systems to explore these questions.
EDUARDO ZATTARA, Postdoctoral Researcher
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I have a long standing interest in the role of developmental bias in channeling evolutionary change by vetoing certain evolutionary trajectories while facilitating others. Central to this concept is the notion that developmental programs interact with environmental conditions to create a rugged landscape of potential change, while evolution traces paths of least resistance through that landscape. In my research I investigate the nature and consequences of developmental channeling in the evolution of novel traits during post-embryonic development, from annelids and nemerteans to insects.
ANNA MACAGNO, Senior Research Associate
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I am a broadly trained entomologist with a research background spanning the systematics and evolution of morphology of Onthophagus beetles, the community ecology and conservation of dung beetles, and the ecology, distribution, and conservation of saproxylic beetles and dragonflies. As a member of the Moczek lab, I am using Onthophagus beetles to study the parallel divergence of male and female copulatory structures, the role of appendage-patterning genes in their development, and the evolution of ovarian development in populations subject to different levels of competition.
SOFIA CASASA, Graduate Student
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I am intrigued by the diversity observed in natural populations and the environment´s role in shaping phenotypic variation. Specifically, I want to address the developmental and genetic mechanisms underlying plasticity and how these contribute to evolutionary change. As a first approach, I am trying to understand the role of the insulin signaling pathway, which directly links nutrition to growth, in the development and evolution of horn polyphenisms in Onthophagus beetles.
GUILLAUME DURY, Graduate Student
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Why do insects act, and interact, the way they do? This broad question is at the heart of my interest in insect behavior, its evolution, and ecology. Particularly, I want to improve our understanding of social behaviors in insects, from gregariousness to parental care, and explore the conditions under which different types of social behaviors originate, transition into each other, or may become lost, and the consequences of these processes. Presently, I focus my work on social behaviors in dung beetles, whose social interactions including parental care exhibit an enormous – and experimentally accessible – diversity.
ERIK PARKER, Graduate Student
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My research background is in the study of phenotypic divergence between Three-spined Stickleback populations, primarily through the use of geometric morphometrics. Now I am eager to begin exploring the role of the environment during development. I am particularly interested in how niche construction alters the selective environment organisms experience, and what effect those alterations have on adaptation and subsequent trait evolution.
DANIEL SCHWAB, Graduate Student
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How does the environment influence development and developmental evolution? I am addressing this broad question through two research foci. In the first, I study the role of DNA methylation in mediating the nutritionally responsive, polyphenic development of Onthophagus taurus. Secondly, I study the role of developmental symbiosis between Onthophagus beetles and their gut microbiome in both promoting normative development and in shaping developmental variation.
JUSTINE CHRISTIAN, Research Assistant
KAYLA COPPER, Research Assistant
TREVOR EDGERTON, Research Assistant
VEDANT KAR, Research Assistant
KEELEY NEWSOM, Research Assistant
HANNAH BUSEY, STARTS/IFLE Fellow