Research

My love for biodiversity and the complexities of ecology drive my research interests. I’m a “how” person:

How does limb reduction and loss lead to snakes?

How does an isolated population result in a completely new species?

How are there so many intricate, unique patterns in butterflies?

How do Sequoia’s get so big, or live so long!?

My background in molecular biology also speaks to my fascinations with the “how” of life. Looking at the building blocks, or hierarchies of biological organization can be quite informative about the mechanisms (the how) behind many biological processes or relationships (Figure).

Figure: Simplified Hierarchy of Life. Top Left to Bottom Right: DNA (genetic material) is at the molecular level of biological organization that encode for cellular components and functions and is found inside of virtually all cells. A cell is the smallest unit of life that carries out instructions from the genetic material. The cells responsible for carrying out the same specific function(s) are organized into tissues, and tissues form organs (skin, liver, etc.). These organs work in concert in organ systems for normal organism function. Individual organisms of the same species, inhabiting the same area or region are considered populations. The scope of molecular biology is often focused on the level of the cell or genetic material. Figure created with BioRender.

I find myself driven to approach scientific inquiries with many levels of the biological hierarchy in mind. It’s like watching a time lapse of Bob Ross on PBS turning smears of paint into a masterpiece…in reverse.

Below are some short descriptions of my involvement in current Schwartz Lab projects, with links to the project pages or our lab website.


Current Projects

Dwarf Reptiles

The California Channel Islands have been home to multiple species (pygmy mammoth, island fox, and island scrub jay) that have experience changes in body size (dwarfism or gigantism). We now know that three reptiles are significantly smaller on two Channel Islands than their mainland counterparts.

It’s super cool, right!? HOW???

Well, that’s what we hope to learn from our research. Dwarfism in artificial selection (cattle, pigs, dogs) and laboratory models (mice, fruit flies, Caenorhabditis elegans) point to the Growth Hormone – Insulin/Insulin-like Signaling (GH-IIS) network’s (or analogous signaling network) role in growth, development, and reproduction across organisms.

More about the dwarf reptile project here.

I have set out to answer specific question at the level of genetic material: Are the genes in the GH-IIS network evolving faster in populations of dwarf alligator lizards and gopher snakes? I am approaching this question using whole genome re-sequencing data from multiple individuals across mainland and island populations and testing divergence rates of GH-IIS genes relative to divergence rates across the rest of the genome.

I’m also interested in changes at the cellular level associated with life on the Channel Islands. Is there divergence in cellular physiology in a comparison of mainland and island alligator lizards? I have optimized primary cell culture protocols for the production of fibroblast cells from lizard tail tissue. These techniques are useful for studying cellular respiration and responses to changes in glucose, relevant to conditions in low resource environments (which islands tend to be).

Anole Aging

(Coming Soon!)

Minor Roles (Side Projects)
  • Two draft, reference-assembled genomes for Daphnia pulicaria strains. This work is most relevant to research involving D. pulicaria strains that are tolerant or sensitive to toxic Mycrocystis algae.
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