I am interested in the evolution of biological novelties and understanding the functional genomic mechanisms underlying EXTRAORDINARY traits. Motivated by this, my research is focused on developing and applying cutting-edge technological and computational tools to decipher genomes and highlight the precise biological mechanisms that give shape to the vast diversity of life.
As such, my work has extended across many subjects and disciplines. Likewise, it has taken me from the field, to the bench, to the computer cluster, and back again. I have investigated the genetics of social behaviors (paternal care and monogamy) in owl monkeys and other non-human primates, retraced ancient human migration routes via patterns of genetic variation, quantified large genomic architectural changes across primate taxa, and examined rare variants associated with extreme HDL-levels in humans. Most recently though, I have concentrated on unraveling the genomic underpinnings of the toughest biological materials on Earth: spider silks.
Spider silks are lighter and tougher than steel, exhibit antimicrobial properties, and are nearly invisible to the human immune system. Yet, despite these amazing qualities, much remains unknown about spider silk genetic structure, functional diversity, and production. To provide a deeper understanding of spider silk biology, I have constructed the genomes and tissue-specific transcriptomes of two orb-weaving spiders (Nephila clavipes and Caerostris darwini) that build massive webs with extensive repertoires of silks that exhibit a wide range of biophysical properties. Through the assembly, analysis, and dissemination of these resources, it is my goal to both develop and promote industrial and medical innovations that will harness the extraordinary properties of spider silk.