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Evolutionary biology

Palaeontology, systematics and functional morphology, the genetic basis of animal diversity and evolutionary genetics


Many developments in evolutionary biology lie at the interface of traditional disciplines. In Cambridge, strength in developmental genetics and genomics complements the traditional evolutionary disciplines of comparative and functional morphology, and population genetics. The Museum of Zoology, currently undergoing refurbishment, is an important resource. Some of our recent research is highlighted below.

Palaeontology, systematics and functional morphology

Work has exploited the Museum's collections, particularly in the study of vertebrate evolution. Our understanding of the emergence of vertebrates on land has been transformed through studies of the earliest tetrapods and there is a major project to study some of the earliest terrestrial faunas. A new microCT scanner allows non-destructive 3D reconstruction of the internal structure of skeletal, fossil and foetal material from irreplaceable archival specimens.

The genetic basis of animal diversity

Building on strengths in Drosophila developmental genetics, groups studying developmental diversity and morphological radiation in insects and other arthropods have made significant advances in understanding. Comparative studies have elucidated the evolution, function and regulation of genes controlling segment patterning. Studying the adaptive radiation and evolution of mimicry in butterflies has demonstrated that this evolution involves the introgression of key genomic regions between distinct species

Evolutionary genetics

Abundant sequence data is allowing researchers to follow the process of evolution in populations and across lineages. Studies have resulted in the identification of regions under selection during primate evolution and the ability to trace dynamics of population evolution in humans and domesticated animals. Work on virus and pathogen evolution has shown consanguinity effects on infectious disease susceptibility and has allowed the quantification of adaptive evolution in immune cells.