A major goal of ecological and evolutionary biology is to understand how evolutionary processes lead to speciation, divergence, adaptation, and diversification. Mutations are the ultimate source of genetic variation. Single-nucleotide variants (SNVs), small insertions and deletions (Indels), and structural variants (SVs) accumulate in diverse patterns across different organism groups. In addition, genome architecture has been constantly shaped through the forces of natural selection and demographic processes over the evolution of organisms. Therefore, an open question in evolutionary biology is: How do genetic variation, ecological factors, selection, and neutral evolution interact with each other during genome evolution? Our research program addresses these questions by focusing on two disparate organisms: primates and reef-building corals.

Image by Andre Mouton

Primate Evolution and Human Disease

Primates are highly adaptive and well studied (Mao et al., 2021 Nature) with episodic bursts of duplication and rearrangement. Characterizing SVs in primates is essential to understanding human disease and evolution. SVs have larger effect sizes and provide the essential materials of genetic variation for evolution; duplications especially contribute to human brain development (e.g., SRGAP2 and NOTHC2NL) (Dennis et al., 2012, Cell). However, the genomic regions associated with human diseases and adaptive traits (larger brain) are usually highly polymorphic and divergent in primate genomes. Thus, we are interested in understanding the evolutionary history of the complex regions and how they are associated with human adaptive traits and the origins of human diseases.