We study how animals have changed their physiology to overcome challenges in their environment.

Amphibians in particular have made drastic changes to their physiology in different ecological contexts. We currently have several projects that focus on innovative physiological solutions to


Physiology of Chemical Defenses

Lab member: David Ramirez and Aurora Alvarez-Buylla

How do frogs sequester toxic small molecules from their diet to serve as chemical defenses? Poison frogs have evolved specific physiological mechanisms to uptake and accumulate lipophilic alkaloids from their diet as a defense against predators. This process likely involved proteins in different tissues and the blood stream to transport alkaloids, although the identity of the proteins is unknown. We us laboratory feeding experiments and frogs collected in the field to correlate the sequestration of different alkaloids with patterns in gene expression or protein abundance. This gives us an unbiased and organismal look into the proteins that may be involved in the alkaloid sequestration process. Collaborators: Luis Coloma (Centro Jambatu) and Justin Du Bois (Stanford University).


Alkaloid Metabolism

Lab member: Aurora Alvarez-Buylla

How do frogs metabolize small molecules from their diet? In response to their highly toxic diets, poison frogs are able to metabolize alkaloids for detoxification and excretion, and in some cases even convert them into more potent forms. We are interested in understanding the molecular machinary responsible for toxin metabolism and the chemical modifications that occur to dietary alkaloids that are specific to poison frogs. Collaborators: Luis Coloma (Centro Jambatu), Justin Du Bois (Stanford University), and Jon Long (Stanford University).


Evolution of Aposematism

Lab member:

What is the genetic basis of poison frog warning signals?  Some poison frogs have evolved complex traits including variation in warning coloration, defensive chemicals, and behavior. We are working in the lab and field to understand how these unique traits have evolved within a complex ecosystem through interactions with arthopod prey and frog predators. Collaborators: Brice Noonan (University of Mississippi), JP Lawrence (Michigan State University), Bibiana Rojas (University of Jyväskylä).


Genome and Gene Editing

Lab member: Maiah Gaines-Richardson

Genomes and gene editing tools are needed to functionally test our hypotheses about the way organisms work.  To enable functional research in amphibians by our lab and others, we create community-based and open-source resources. This includes genomics resources like high-quality amphibian genomes and transcriptomes. We also create gene editing protocols for the broader amphibian community, including electroporation and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. 

Collaborators: Roberto Marquez (University of Michigan), Hollis Cline (Scripps Research Institute), and Taejoon Kwon (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology)