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Evolutionary genetics is my passion. Over millions of years of earth history, organisms evolved amazing diversity of strategies, including life history, morphology and behavior, to cope with environment changes. It is a privilege for biologist to appreciate this diversity, and explore its deep root - the genes. The overarching question that I am interested in is: what is the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation?
Take human as an example. There is only 1% difference between human and chimpanzee genome. But given the fact that the genome has 3 billion base pairs, it is obviously a huge number of DNA changes. Even in the "big data" era, it still seems a daunting task that if we want to figure out what genetic changes are responsible for what aspects of phenotypic difference that distinguishs us from chimpanzee.
For easier experimental manipulation, I use flower evolution as a handle to tackle this question. Fowering plants have a bewildering diversity of shapes and sizes. However, regarded as "an abominable mystery" by Darwin himself, this diversity is likely first generated through an explosive burst of diversification 100 millions ago. Evidence suggests that pollinatior interaction is one of the key to understanding this rapid diversification of flowering plants. There are two important questions to ask about this process: a, the force - what kind of selection pressure does pollinator poses to plants? b, the material - what genetic changes modify the design of plants to cope with those selection pressure?
a, With the help from my co-advisor Prof. Tom Daniel, I constructed a test platform by using a novel combination of 3D-printing technology and electrical sensors. I measure the fitness parameters for rationally designed flower morphologies under the visits of real pollinators. I aim to build fitness landscapes for both plants and pollinators, over the theoretical flower morphospace. In this way, I will be able to understand what is the driving force for flower morphology evolution under pollinator selection.
b. Advised by Prof. Toby Bradshaw, I am using Mimulus (monkeyflower) as a model system to understand the genetic basis for pollinator-driven adaptation. By using both forward genetics (QTL mapping, mutagenesis screen) and reverse genetics approach(candidate gene method and stable transformation for funcutional verification), I tried to understand the genes responsible for the floral difference (e.g. color and scents) between the sisiter species pair - M. lewisii and M. cardinalis.
2005 - 2011, B.S. Urban Planning - East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
2013 - Now, Ph.D. Biology - University of Washington, Seattle, US