Published: July 10, 2015

Jacob standing in a roomBecause I have a background in paleontology, I am interested in the “big steps” in vertebrate evolution.  One of the best ways to study this is evolutionary developmental biology.  I like to call it live-action” paleontology, because we seek to resolve major evolutionary questions about how animals evolved using living systems.  One of the reasons I chose the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is that there is a strong evolutionary developmental biology group, and they are looking into very interesting and important questions.  My current work involves the origins of the evolution of the jaw.  One of the first major innovations in the vertebrate lineage was the development of the jaw, and this was one of the many traits that allowed early vertebrates to become effective predators.   I am trying to understand what genetic changes were necessary to make a jaw.  For instance, some genes may have been co-opted for new roles in the jaw, gaining new roles because of altered timing or location in the development of the animals.   I work to answer these questions with lampreys (jawless fish) and zebrafish (jawed fish).

Lamprey jaws