Our research focuses on the early evolutionary events in the diversification of life some 1-3.5 billion years ago on Earth. For decades we have known that eukaryotes — organisms that package their DNA inside a cell nucleus (e.g. animals, plants, fungi and single-celled protists) — are vastly different in cell structure from nucleus-lacking prokaryotic cells (e.g. Eubacteria or Archaebacteria). Although it is likely that eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes 1 to 2 billion years ago, the events that occurred in their subsequent diversification into major "kingdoms" remain contentious. The research in our laboratory aims at discerning these events and fitting them onto a robust tree of kingdom-level relationships (click here to see a hypothetical tree we dreamed up).

To do this, we are using a several tiered approach. Our first goal is to sample multiple genes from a wide array of diverse single-celled eukaryotes to build molecular phylogenies. Second, after we have developed molecular biological tools for these organisms, we are initiating larger-scale studies of their genome structure and evolution.