Our overarching goal is to identify genomic variation between species and populations and to determine their role in adaptation and evolutionary innovation.
We are currently carrying out research in four main areas:
- PineRAD (Pine Resistance and Adaptation Genomics): Genetic basis of drought resistance in loblolly pine. Climate change will dramatically impact natural forests and timber productivity in managed plantations. One of our goals is to better understand the genetic basis of drought resistance in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.), the most widely planted forest trees in Southeastern U.S. A multi-lab effort is ongoing to integrate physiological measurements, gene expression information and genotyping data to identify genetic variants associated to drought resistance in loblolly pine.
- Developing genomics tools to improve the management of bark beetle outbreaks. Although most bark beetle species are benign or cause little forest damage, a variety of north American bark beetle species are responsible for extensive tree mortality due to outbreaks that have been increasingly linked to climate change. The genus Dendroctonus contains a high concentration of aggressive, tree-killing bark beetle species (Subfamily Scolytinae, Family Curculionidae), including the mountain pine beetle (MPB, D. ponderosae) and the southern pine beetle (SPB, D. frontalis). Our goal is to generate extensive genomic resources for the genus Dendroctonus and to apply comparative and population genomic data to design improved target for pest control through RNA interference. This is a collaborative effort between our lab, Dr. Heath Blackmon lab at TAMU and Prof. Lynne Rieske-Kinney at the University of Kentucky.
- Evolution of lineage-specific traits and adaptation through gene turnover. Gene duplication and gene loss (combined: gene turnover) generate genetic diversity between populations and species. We are interested in understanding how these processes influence phenotypic variation and adaptation. We apply comparative genomic approaches to identify lineage-specific differences in gene turnover rates, and to characterize expansions and contractions of gene families that are associated with novel traits. We are using exome sequencing datasets to study population genomic variation in pine trees due to gene copy-number variants.
- Molecular basis of convergent evolution. Complex phenotypes may evolve independently along multiple lineages that experience similar selective regimes, resulting in convergent adaptations. We are currently interested in studying genetic changes underpinning convergent evolution in C4 plants.