I am an evolutionary biologist.
My research program is diverse, and geared at resolving controversial questions in evolutionary biology. Much of this research stands at the crossroads between behavioural ecology and evolutionary genetics. My major funded projects explore the dynamics of mitochondrial genome evolution, and adaptation under oxidative stress.
Some examples follow:
- It is typically assumed that the mitochondrial genetic variation we observe within and across populations is neutral to selection. My work challenges this fundamental assumption and addresses the evolutionary consequences (and consequences to biologists) of non-neutral variation in mtDNA. See this review: Dowling et al. 2008 Trends Ecol. Evol. 23, 546-554 (pdf 261kb).
- Maternal inheritance of mitochondrial genomes implies that selection can only directly affect the mitochondrial DNA sequence when carried by females. Our research suggests that this can facilitate the evolution of male-harming mutations within mitochondrial genomes. These mutations affect male reproductive functioning (pdf 345kb) and male-specific patterns of ageing (pdf 399kb).
- A key idea in evolutionary theory is that life-history traits (such as growth and fecundity) don’t evolve freely of each other, but instead trade-off against each other. Such trade-offs are often assumed to centre around a currency of resource limitation. This is an assumption, and in most cases we simply do not know the mechanisms that underlie such life-history trade-offs. I am exploring the physiological underpinnings of life-history trade-offs, both at the phenotypic and genetic levels. I am particularly interested in the hand that free radicals (reactive metabolites crucial for life, but also highly toxic when in excess) play in the evolution of these trade-offs. See this review: Dowling & Simmons 2009 Proc. R. Soc. B 276, 1737-1745 (pdf 356kb).