Welcome to our lab

Research.  We study developmental mechanisms in their phylogenetic context to understand the molecular basis of phenotypic evolution. Current research focuses on mechanisms of axis and tissue specification in dipteran insects, including flies, midges, and mosquitoes. 

Why Diptera?  This group is a suitable model taxon for comparative developmental genetics.  It includes an important genetic model organism (Drosophila melanogaster).  We use Drosophila as an entry point for functional and comparative studies in other dipteran species.  Some dipterans are major disease vectors (e.g. for Malaria, Yellow fever, Leishmania, sleeping sickness, river blindness).  Other dipterans are  important agricultural pests, such as the mediterranean fuit flies. In sum, the group as a whole receives a lot of attention, and this comes with a variety of useful ressources that we can use for our own research agenda. Finally, the fossil record of Diptera is quite remarkable and bolsters the evolutionary framework in which we conduct our comparative developmental genetic research.  For a review of dipteran phylogeny see Wiegmann et al. (2011). Episodic radiations in the fly tree of life. PNAS 108, 5690-5695.  For a review of the fossil record of Diptera see Grimaldi & Engel (2005) The evolution of insects. Cambridge, University Press.

Special resources in our laboratory.  We, along with a growing number of collaborating laboratories around the world, explore and develop new fly, midge and mosquito models for comparative developmental genetic studies. These species provide a unique resource for students and scholars with intersts in the developmental basis of evolutionary novelty. 

Teaching.  We welcome undergradutes and summer students who seek to gain hands-on research experience with our experimental systems or wish to develop new dipteran models.  For those with general interst in the evolution of animal development, we offer a graduate level course Evolution and Development.  It is taught in the Autumn quarter and focuses on big picture current debates in comparative developmental biology.  The course is also open to advanced and appropriately prepared undergraduates.

Outreach.  Since 2011, we collaborate with a local high school (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools).  The goal is to develop and optimize indoor culture techniques for a dipteran species (Hermetia illucens).  This species represents a portion of the phylogenetic tree of dipterans for which suitable developmental genetic models are not yet available.  Two high school biology teachers and trained entomologists (Dr. Daniel Calleri and Mr. Daniel Jones) at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools incorporated the project into their curriculum for 9th and 10th graders.  Since 2011, our lab also hosts an annual Evo-Devo Day for the DNA Residency Program at the Field Museum of Natural History (program organizer at the Field Museum: Ms. Erica Zahnle).