My research group study molecular evolution using bioinformatics and experiments.
A major focus in the lab is the evolution of translation initiation in bacteria. We are performing experiments in both E. coli & yeast to see what happens if we streamline E. coli translation initiation by removing two steps in the pathway by which protein synthesis initiates. Yeast has a simpler pathway, and we are performing the opposite experiment, integrating these genes into the yeast genome. PhD student Ryan Catchpole in my lab is leading this work.
With Rutherford Discovery Fellow Paul Gardner, we have been using comparative genomics to examine evolution of small RNAs. Our motivation is to establish if any RNAs can be traced back to the earliest stages in the evolution of life, prior to the advent of genetically-encoded proteins and DNA. PhD student Sinan Ugur is now studying horizontal gene transfer of small RNAs.
With Prof. Jun Ogawa and team at Kyoto University, we are working to engineer E. coli that can produce DNA via an alternative pathway to the ubiquitous ribonucleotide reductase pathway, which all life uses to generate DNA building blocks from RNA. This work may tell us if DNA could have evolved via a simpler route than the complex reaction performed by ribonucleotide reductases.
With Dr. Austen Ganley at Massey Albany, MSc student Mark Walker is working to examine whether a protein coded antisense to the rDNA evolved to keep selfish mitochondria at bay.