My research focuses on the evolution and diversification of venoms, complex cocktails of toxins injected for the purpose of predation, defense, competition, and digestion. Venoms are plastic with respect to their environment, modulated by diet, age, geography, and even the presence of predators. This variation can expand across populations of a single species or even within individuals.
Specifically, I am interested in the phylum Cnidaria, which includes jellyfish and their relatives. Cnidarians are the earliest diverging venomous animals, yet relative to other venomous lineages, they are some of the most poorly understood. Cnidarians display an astonishing diversity of life history traits, and play important ecological roles across all major marine, and some freshwater, habitats. I argue that cnidarians make ideal models for understanding how venoms are modulated with respect to ecological role.
I am using various omic's techniques, including genomics and transciptomics, to better understand how venom structure and expression is influenced by various evolutionary and ecological conditions. I also use a variety of molecular techniques to understand the evolution of stinging cells, which are novel, complex structure solely found in cnidarians.