We study the co-evolution of Life and Earth. We combine genomic and geological information to understand the evolutionary history of life.
We look at the origin of new physiologies, cell types and organs. We focus on lineages that played major roles in the evolution of the Earth system.
Our theoretical research spans the development of phylogenetic methods. We look at how to improve the signal to noise ratio in phylogenetic datasets and supertree methods. We use divergence time estimation, and study how to recover an accurate timescale of life.
In our applied research we look at the origins of key lineages that evolved early in life’s history. This can range from the Last Universal Common Ancestor of Life (LUCA) to the origin of the eukaryotes and animals.
We also study protein family evolution and genome evolution. We look at the genomic underpinning of key evolutionary innovations.
Work in the group generally aligns with one of these themes:
We aim to understand the relationships and time of origin of the animal phyla. We look at the relative relationships between the sponges, the jellyfishes and the corals, the placozoans and the comb jellies.
We also research the origin and evolution of the Ecdysozoa. Ecdysozoa includes arthropods, the round worms, the water bears, the velvet worms, the mud dragons, the penis worms and the loricated animals. Ecdysozoa represent the largest majority of animal biodiversity and biomass. They have dominated the marine and terrestrial ecosystems for more than 500 million years. Yet, we still don't have a clear understanding of their evolutionary history.
We study early life. We aim to recover and date the tree of life (down to LUCA). We investigate how the early evolution of life drove the evolution of the Earth system, and we work to understand broader evolutionary patterns that don't follow a tree-like pattern.
Evolution of new physiologies
We study how new physiologies and organ systems evolved. We have used vison as our main model, but we are keen to explore other systems. We work with fossil data and comparative genomics to understand how physiologies have changed over time.
We work on the development and testing of phylogenetic and molecular clock methods. Previous work focused on the development of Supertree methods (including Bayesian supertrees). Current work focuses on testing alternative molecular clock approaches, and models for morphological phylogenetics.
Revolutions in Earth History
Studing the perturbation of the Earth system at the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic transition and the resilience of the Biosphere. This is a NERC funded project with Dan Condon, Tim Lenton, Davide Pisani, Graham Shields, Jakob Vinther, and many others.
Our role in this project is:
- the disentanglement of the relationships at the root of the animal tree of life
- the generation of a timescale of animal evolution
Comparative genomics of non-model invertebrates
This is an EU funded ITN initiative in collaboration with Gert Wörheide (Munich), Max Telford (UCL), Andreas Hejnol (Bergen), Alexandros Stamatakis and Detlev Arendt (Heidelberg), and many others.
Within this large scale project we are involved in the investigation of:
- early animal phylogenetics (with Gert Wörheide)
- Ecdysozoan phylogenetics (with Max Telford)
- the specification of the animal-vegetal axis (with Andreas Hejnol)
- phylogeny of the Deuterostomia (with Max Telford)
Early Evolution of vision
The group has been at the forefront in the study of the early evolution of vision for many years. This work is in collaboration with Roberto Feuda (a Royal Society URF at the University of Bristol)
The current focus is:
- the use of molecular approaches to understand relationships of homology across the animal’s photoreceptor cells
The early evolution of life and Earth
We are collaborating on this project with Phil Donoghue and Tom Williams (Bristol) and other researchers from the UK and abroad. These include: Tim Lenton, Graham Shields, Bill Martin (Dusseldorf) and Andy Knoll (Harvard).
We are studying how the evolution of life affected:
- the evolution of the physical Earth
- the onset of the global biogeochemical cycles
Find out more about the work and publications of the Pisani Lab on our website