Professor of Biology, Amherst College
Ph.D., North Carolina State University, 1996
M.S., University of Virginia, 1992
B.A., University of Virginia, 1991
My research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape systems of inheritance. In particular, I am working on how different genomic regions interact with an organism's reproductive strategy. Regions such as sex chromosomes, autosomes, and cytoplasmic components differ in their modes of inheritance and are therefore exposed to conflicting patterns of natural selection. At the same time, all of these regions are connected through their effects on individual fitness. My work addresses the resulting instability of genetic systems (at both individual and population levels), its proximal causes, and how some organisms cope or even adapt to genomic plasticity. I also have a long-standing interest in the transmission biology of diseases in natural populations. In many ways, host-pathogen interactions have conflicts of interest and instabilities that are analogous to those involved in the evolution of genetic systems. This is most clearly seen in the dynamics of "genomic parasites" (such as repetitive DNA elements or invasive mitochondrial types), but also in the general principles of horizontal transmission and co-evolution that allow antagonistic relationships to persist. Most of my current studies use the parasitic fungus Microbotryum, which causes anther-smut disease on plants of the Caryophyllaceae.