Please describe your career path.
My first real introduction to population genetics was through a course at Western Michigan University offered by former UW professor DeWayne Shoemaker. I found that it brought together my interests in molecular and genetic processes on one hand, and ecological and evolutionary processes on the other. As a graduate student at Cornell University, I worked with Chip Aquadro on the population genetics of the common vinegar fly (and genetics model species) Drosophila melanogaster. Here I became curious about this species’ African origins, which inspired the first of my fly-collecting trips to Africa. Looking ahead, I could see that my field was changing profoundly, as my colleagues were beginning to study genetic variation on the scale of whole genomes. While doing postdoctoral research with Rasmus Nielsen (at Copenhagen and then UC Berkeley), I learned how to analyze large “population genomic” data sets and to develop new statistical methods for such analyses. Then, as a postdoc with Chuck Langley (UC Davis), I put these tools to work in the analysis of fully sequenced genomes from African D. melanogaster.
What is the main focus of your research program?
My research in population genetics involves the study of genetic variation and its evolutionary determinants. Genetic variation offers a window into a population’s history of natural selection, population size change, and migration events. Our lab is using fully sequenced genomes from Drosophila and other organisms to address fundamental evolutionary questions, including the relative importance of natural selection versus demographic history in shaping genetic variation. We also use this data to investigate the genetic basis of differences between Drosophila populations in traits such as melanic pigmentation. Ultimately, we hope to uncover concrete examples of the types of mutations that adaptive evolution operates upon, to add to our broader understanding of how natural selection works at the genetic level.
What drew you to UW-Madison?
UW-Madison is a great fit for my research, and I really like my colleagues in the Laboratory of Genetics and beyond. I feel like the atmosphere here is highly collegial and supportive of new faculty. I’ve been impressed by the connections between molecular and evolutionary genetics here, and by the growing core of evolutionary genomics research groups. And more broadly, the impressive span of biological research at UW-Madison is a great advantage. On a personal level, the Madison area was also important in bringing me here – everything from its food and culture to its outdoor opportunities.