Education & Certifications
B.S., University of Utah, Biology with emphasis in Cell and Molecular Biology (2012)
Eutherians are often mistakenly termed 'placental mammals', but marsupials also have a placenta to mediate early embryonic development. Lactation is necessary for both infant and fetal development in eutherians and marsupials, although marsupials have a far more complex milk repertoire that facilitates morphogenesis of developmentally immature young. In this study, we demonstrate that the anatomically simple tammar placenta expresses a dynamic molecular program that is reminiscent of eutherian placentation, including both fetal and maternal signals. Further, we provide evidence that genes facilitating fetal development and nutrient transport display convergent co-option by placental and mammary gland cell types to optimize offspring success.
View details for PubMedID 28895534
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5595433
Birds display remarkable diversity in the distribution and morphology of scales and feathers on their feet, yet the genetic and developmental mechanisms governing this diversity remain unknown. Domestic pigeons have striking variation in foot feathering within a single species, providing a tractable model to investigate the molecular basis of skin appendage differences. We found that feathered feet in pigeons result from a partial transformation from hindlimb to forelimb identity mediated by cis-regulatory changes in the genes encoding the hindlimb-specific transcription factor Pitx1 and forelimb-specific transcription factor Tbx5. We also found that ectopic expression of Tbx5 is associated with foot feathers in chickens, suggesting similar molecular pathways underlie phenotypic convergence between these two species. These results show how changes in expression of regional patterning genes can generate localized changes in organ fate and morphology, and provide viable molecular mechanisms for diversity in hindlimb scale and feather distribution.
View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.12115
View details for Web of Science ID 000371970400001
View details for PubMedID 26977633
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4805547
Understanding the molecular basis of phenotypic diversity is a critical challenge in biology, yet we know little about the mechanistic effects of different mutations and epistatic relationships among loci that contribute to complex traits. Pigmentation genetics offers a powerful model for identifying mutations underlying diversity and for determining how additional complexity emerges from interactions among loci. Centuries of artificial selection in domestic rock pigeons (Columba livia) have cultivated tremendous variation in plumage pigmentation through the combined effects of dozens of loci. The dominance and epistatic hierarchies of key loci governing this diversity are known through classical genetic studies, but their molecular identities and the mechanisms of their genetic interactions remain unknown. Here we identify protein-coding and cis-regulatory mutations in Tyrp1, Sox10, and Slc45a2 that underlie classical color phenotypes of pigeons and present a mechanistic explanation of their dominance and epistatic relationships. We also find unanticipated allelic heterogeneity at Tyrp1 and Sox10, indicating that color variants evolved repeatedly though mutations in the same genes. These results demonstrate how a spectrum of coding and regulatory mutations in a small number of genes can interact to generate substantial phenotypic diversity in a classic Darwinian model of evolution.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.020
View details for PubMedID 24508169
Variation in the melanocortin-1 receptor (Mc1r) is associated with pigmentation diversity in wild and domesticated populations of vertebrates, including several species of birds. Among domestic bird species, pigmentation variation in the rock pigeon (Columbalivia) is particularly diverse. To determine the potential contribution of Mc1r variants to pigment diversity in pigeons, we sequenced Mc1r in a wide range of pigeon breeds and identified several single nucleotide polymorphisms, including a variant that codes for an amino acid substitution (Val85Met). In contrast to the association between Val85Met and eumelanism in other avian species, this change was associated with pheomelanism in pigeons. In vitro cAMP accumulation and protein expression assays revealed that Val85Met leads to decreased receptor function and reduced cell surface expression of the mutant protein. The reduced in vitro function is consistent with the observed association with reduced eumelanic pigmentation. Comparative genetic and cellular studies provide important insights about the range of mechanisms underlying diversity among vertebrates, including different phenotypic associations with similar mutations in different species.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0074475
View details for PubMedID 23977400
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3744500
Domestic pigeons are spectacularly diverse and exhibit variation in more traits than any other bird species . In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin repeatedly calls attention to the striking variation among domestic pigeon breeds-generated by thousands of years of artificial selection on a single species by human breeders-as a model for the process of natural divergence among wild populations and species . Darwin proposed a morphology-based classification of domestic pigeon breeds , but the relationships among major groups of breeds and their geographic origins remain poorly understood [4, 5]. We used a large, geographically diverse sample of 361 individuals from 70 domestic pigeon breeds and two free-living populations to determine genetic relationships within this species. We found unexpected relationships among phenotypically divergent breeds as well as convergent evolution of derived traits among several breed groups. Our findings also illuminate the geographic origins of breed groups in India and the Middle East and suggest that racing breeds have made substantial contributions to feral pigeon populations.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2011.12.045
View details for Web of Science ID 000300595300022
View details for PubMedID 22264611
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3288640