Evolutionary innovations in animal physiology

We study how animals evolve innovative physiological solutions to different ecological challenges.

Main content start


Physiology of Chemical Defenses

Lab member: David Ramirez and Mabel Gonzalez

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: Mabel Gonzalez

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).


Sea to Land Transitions in Crabs

Lab member: Victoria Watson-Zink

How do animals adapt their physiology and development to survive in different environments? Over the history of life on Earth, sea-to-land transitions have occurred only a handful of times, but these transitions have happened surprisingly frequently in crabs. We are studying how different crab species have independently evolved to live on land, which requires major changes to their physiology and development. Specifically, we are examining the developmental changes that occur in crab species that are totally marine, totally terrestrial, and midway in between.


Genome and Gene Editing

Lab member: Chloe Golde

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)