Emília Santos | NERC Independent Research Fellow, Assistant Professor in Evolutionary Biology


During my master’s degree I studied the gene structure and function of the FoxP gene family in Drosophila and mouse. It was a fantastic project, but throughout its duration I realised that the topic I felt more passionate about was the evolution of morphological diversity. What are the genes, mutations and developmental mechanisms responsible for the emergence of morphological variation? I then moved on to do a PhD on the evolution of pigmentation patterns in cichlid fishes . For my  post-doc, I added one more model organism to my experimental portfolio – the Rhagovelia insects. In this project I studied the genetics, development, and function of a novel cuticular structure present only in the Rhagovelia genus. During the process we described new species and got to name two genes! At the moment, we are focusing on neural crest cells and pigmentation evolution in cichlid fishes. 

Aleksandra Marconi |Wellcome Trust PhD student


My main research interests lie in understanding how developmental and genetic mechanisms are related to evolutionary patterns. I am focusing on the evolution and development of the neural crest and pigment cells in cichlid fishes.  I am exploring how changes at the level of the genome, gene regulatory networks and developmental mechanisms during embryogenesis can affect (1) evolution of the neural crest-derived features and generate natural phenotypic diversity. When I am not in the lab, I enjoy practicing yoga, running and film photography.

Bethan Clark |Wellcome Trust PhD student

DSC_7537 (3)I am interested in how genetic and cellular mechanisms during development interact with evolution and ecology. My project focuses on how genetic variation is translated into morphological variation: through which developmental mechanisms, and how? I am studying sexually-selected pigmentation patterns using CRISPR-Cas9 knockouts, imaging, gene expression analyses, and agent-based modelling. Outside of the lab, I enjoy writing, open-water swimming, playing hockey with Cambridge South, being environmental officer for my college, and occasionally dabbling in wildlife photography and nature illustration.

Aaron Hickey | Balfour – Trinity College SBS DTP PhD student


My PhD project focuses on pigmentation evolution in cichlid fish. I wish to understand the mechanisms of trait emergence and whether the mechanisms are conserved across closely related species. I will investigate the gene regulatory networks involved in pigmentation pattern formation across development using a combination of imaging, gene expression and chromatin profiling data. Further characterisation of candidate loci involved in the gene regulatory network will be performed through functional genomic work. Previously, I spent time in the biopharmaceutical industry as a process scientist in a GMP vaccine manufacturing facility. Prior to this I completed my MSc project in a synthetic biology lab with Nikolai Windbichler at Imperial college London. My thesis explored a potential effector component of a gene drive strategy for population replacement of the malaria vector species Anopheles gambiae. I completed my BSc project work with Luca Mirimin, optimizing Environmental DNA assays for improved genetic surveillance as a conservation management strategy.

Joel Elkin | Balfour – Trinity College SBS DTP PhD student

_MG_3929My project is focused on characterising the evolution of a recurring and varied pigmentation pattern across multiple cichlid adaptive radiations. By combining phylogenetic comparisons in Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika with both GWAS and QTL analysis, I hope to identify candidate loci associated with the emergence and diversification of cichlid egg-spots. Further down the line, I intend to functionally verify the developmental role of candidate genes using CRISPR/Cas9 editing. When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy live music, scuba diving, and painting.

Jake Morris | Wellcome Trust/ISSF Postdoctoral research associate

Lake Masoko is a small crater lake near Lake Malawi. Astotilapia calliptera cichlids in the lake have begun diverging in to two ecomorphs, one that lives and hunts in the shallows, and the other that thrives at the bottom of the lake (at a depth of around 25m). At these depths, not only does the food and lake substrate differ, but the light environment is also very different. This appears to be driving differences in the egg spots; bright orange markings on the anal fin, that are used by males during courtship to help mating success. I am working to understanding the genetic basis of this egg spot variation, first using a custom image analysis pipeline to understand how size, area, colour and number of spots differs between individuals, and then using this trait data alongside genome data to find the genes associated with these differences. 

%d bloggers like this: