Our research focus is on the phenotype and factors affecting its evolution. For most projects, we use the mammalian dentition that offers a rich array of interrelated data on development, function, and evolutionary history. We use a combination of genetic mouse models, non-model species, transcriptomics, and organ culture methods to perform quantitative analyses of development. These analyses are used to build computational models to study other species and explain evolutionary patterns.
The most mineralized tissue of the mammalian body is tooth enamel. Especially in species with thick enamel, three-dimensional (3D) tomography data has shown that the distribution of enamel varies across the occlusal surface of the tooth crown. Differences in enamel thickness among species and within the tooth crown have been used to examine taxonomic affiliations, life history, and functional properties of teeth.
An increasing number of mammalian species have been shown to have a history of hybridization and introgression based on genetic analyses. Only relatively few fossils, however, preserve genetic material, and morphology must be used to identify the species and determine whether morphologically intermediate fossils could represent hybrids.
The evolutionary relationships of extinct species are ascertained primarily through the analysis of morphological characters. Character inter-dependencies can have a substantial effect on evolutionary interpretations, but the developmental underpinnings of character inter-dependence remain obscure because experiments frequently do not provide detailed resolution of morphological characters. Here we show experimentally and computationally how gradual modification of development differentially affects characters in the mouse dentition