My research uses echinoderms as a model system for understanding one of the most fundamental events in evolutionary history: the origin of animal phyla. I analyse the form and function of Palaeozoic fossil taxa with the aid of X-ray tomography and computer modelling, and I explore the ontogeny of living species through studies of gene expression patterns. In this way, I can test hypotheses concerning the evolution, development and relationships of the earliest echinoderms. In addition, I investigate the population structure of early Palaeozoic benthic marine ecosystems, exploring the relationship between environmental change and biodiversity in basal echinoderms. This requires an innovative synthesis of palaeontological, digital visualization, modelling and evo-devo techniques, and the interdisciplinary nature of this work has allowed me to define a holistic ‘molecular palaeobiology’ research programme. The results are helping to reconstruct the mode and tempo of echinoderm evolution, shedding light on the emergence of animals over half a billion years ago.
I am an interdisciplinary palaeobiologist interested in the early evolution of echinoderms, seeking to investigate their evolutionary emergence through the integration of biological and palaeontological approaches. I have a strong background in computational approaches, particularly ‘virtual palaeontology’. I am also proficient in X-ray tomography and a range of wet-lab techniques.
I obtained an MSci in Palaeobiology (First Class Honours) at University College London, and subsequently went on to pursue a PhD on Palaeozoic fossil echinoderms at Imperial College London under the supervision of Dr Mark Sutton. After my PhD, I undertook an MSc in Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics (Distinction) at the University of Manchester to gain practical experience in molecular biology and bioinformatics. This was followed by a short stint as a Research Associate in the lab of Dr Chris Knight in the Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, where I explored the comparative biology and evolution of yeast genomes. I am currently a NERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on the evolutionary assembly of the echinoderm body plan in the lab of Professor Philip Donoghue. I am a member of the Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol.
I run the advanced undergraduate course Frontiers in Earth Science (Geology).
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