Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA 02481
The research in my lab focuses on the regulation and evolution of developmental plasticity. The work revolves around understanding three major issues: 1) the evolution of insect metamorphosis; 2) evolution and developmental regulation of phenotypic plasticity; and 3) regulation of developmental rates in insects. The lab uses an integrative approach to answering these questions and combines knowledge from genetics, developmental biology, evolution and physiology.
Some of the major questions we are addressing are as follows:
- What is the evolutionary and developmental origin of insect metamorphosis?
The evolutionary origin of insect metamorphosis is one of biggest unresolved mysteries in insect evolution. To investigate the evolutionary changes that led to the evolution of metamorphosis, we are examining the developmental genetic regulation of metamorphosis in basal holometabolous insects (Tribolium castaneum and Apis mellifera). We use RNA interference to determine the function of candidate genes in Tribolium and Apis with the ultimate goal of identifying the major developmental changes that led to the evolution of holometabolous insects.
- What is the developmental mechanism underlying phenotypic plasticity?
The organisms’ ability to alter their developmental trajectories in response to environmental changes is called phenotypic plasticity, and this ability has been proposed to play an important role in adaptive evolution. To assess how plasticity manifests, we are investigating the physiological and developmental mechanisms underlying temperature-dependent phenotypic plasticity in the pigmentation of the milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.
- The developmental physiology of insect development.
What determines the lifespan of an insect? While many variables influence how long an insect can live, factors that regulate the rates of early larval development are not well understood. To begin to understand how developmental rates are regulated, we are currently using Manduca sexta and Tribolium castaneum to investigate the factors and physiological mechanisms that regulate the timing of a larval molt.