About our research

Our primary research focus is on understanding evolutionary innovations.

We are currently investigating viviparity (live birth/pregnancy), the placenta, and venom, although our focus these days is mostly on reproductive biology. These dramatic adaptive traits are encoded by many genes, which we study using state-of-the-art genomic techniques combined with physiology and histology.

 

 

 

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Viviparity and Pregnancy

Venom

Viviparity and Pregnancy

Viviparity is one of the most important biological innovations as its evolution has required a set of complex phenotypic changes to allow internal incubation of embryos, radically changing the way in which organisms interact with their environment and transmit their genes to the next generation. Viviparity has evolved repeatedly from oviparity >150 times in a diverse array of vertebrates. We are testing whether pregnancy is controlled using the same genes and physiological processes, or via divergent pathways due to different ancestry and evolutionary constraints.

 

We are currently investigating the biology and evolution of pregnancy and the placenta in a variety of non-traditional model organisms, including lizards, seahorses, sharks, and Australian marsupials. Some of the questions we are working to answer include:

- How is it that some lizards lay eggs, whilst others of the same species give birth to live young?

- Can male seahorses transport nutrients to developing embryos?

- How does a shark placenta work?

- We've observed both egg-laying and live birth in a single pregnancy. So can oviparity 're-evolve' from viviparity?

 
Venom

As well as contributing to the platypus genome sequencing project, we are examining the genetic basis of venom in the platypus and other mammals. This work involves the use of genome and transcriptome sequences in combination with traditional genetics methodology.

 

This research has resulted in breakthroughs of our understanding of key mechanisms of mammalian venom gene evolution, including recruitment from non-toxin genes, gene duplication to form multigene toxin families, alternative splicing and mutation, and convergent evolution of venom toxins between the platypus and other unrelated species. The novel putative venom toxins that we have identified represent promising candidates for future pharmaceutical development.