Research

Insect Phylogenetics

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Insect diversity. By M. Bertone

Insects make up the majority of known animal life on Earth. Yet, the road map of how they evolved is still unclear. And if you think about that road map, it is not just the small rural roads that are uncharted, but also the major interstate highways. In our lab, we focus on uncovering the tree of life for flies, but also for insects more generally. We use large-scale genetic data to piece together the puzzle of who is more closely related to whom to ultimately fill in that evolutionary road map of life. We can then answer questions about how and when different insect groups originated and then consider factors  that contributed to their diversification. Current projects (with collaborators from 1Kite) are: using transcriptomes to resolve the relationships of all flies, the rapid radiation of Schizophora, and the sister groups to flies within the Antliophora.

Face Mites

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Demodex folliculorum-on of your closest companions. By D. Fergus 

You have two species of mites that live on your face. Right now. On your face. Unbelievably, we know very little about them. We are studying their genetic diversity on people all over the world. Turns out, they have been living on us since the origins of our species. Weirdly, the two species on us, Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis aren’t closely related- even though they look mostly alike. Even better, we’ve discovered that these mites can tell us about our own evolutionary past. By looking at your mites’ DNA,  we can predict where in the world your ancestors originated. Now were are exploring the co-diversification of face mites and human populations and sequencing the genome of D. folliculorum.

 Arthropods in our Homes

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Book louse, a common house dweller,  next to a mosquito leg. By M.Bertone

Since our earliest days, we have been coexisting with arthropods- for better and sometimes for worse. Humans began building houses about 20,000 years ago. Just a split second in evolutionary time. Though we know a lot about the pest species that live with us, we know very little about the many, many other harmless creatures that dwell in our houses. We are exploring  the diversity of arthropods found in homes, here and around the world, asking who lives where and why. Check out our publications, press or expedition videos about this project.

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