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In collaboration with Margaret Docker at the University of Manitoba and others, we are studying the genes involved in gonad development in male and female lamprey sampled at different stages of development (amnocete, juvenile (metamorphosizing) and upstream migrant.  Lampreys have a larger genome in their germ relative to somatic cells and we have evidence that the germline genome  is predominantly involved in male gonad development.  We are currently examining this hypothesis more closely by examining the evolution and regulatory control of the germline genome in male and female sea lamprey to identify the core genes involved in sex determination and male and female gonad differentiation. As lampreys are the oldest extant taxa to harbour a hypothalamus, this research also aims to shed light on the evolution of the HPG axis in vertebrates. 

In related work, we are collaboration on the "Sea Lamprey Aquaculture Procurement (SLAP)" project to compare the development of sea lamprey grown in aquaculture relative to animals wild-caught


Using a variety of methods such as ancestral genome reconstruction, synteny, phylogeny and selection analyses we unraveled the duplication history of relaxin family ligands in vertebrates (see publications) and the Insulin superfamily.  Currently, our work on the insulin superfamily is focused on the role of Insl5 in the metabolism and immunity. For this work, we are using cell culture, mouse and Japanese medaka as models to study the function of INSL5, and using a variety of molecular approaches, including transcriptomics, qPCR, in situ hybridisation and western blots. 



Since 2012, we have understood the importance of using ancestral genome reconstructions (AGR) to elucidate the duplication history and origin of gene families in vertebrates. We used AGR to elucidate the origin of the insulin superfamily of genes in vertebrates. This work led to the observation that some ancestral linkage groups and their syntenic ohnologous gene families exhibit greater evolutionary constraint (i.e. fewer DNA changes) than others. Currently, we are examining the relationship between the map location and time of duplication of gene families vs their rate of evolution and function. Goals of this research are to understand the origin and conservation of the HPG axis using lamprey as a model and whether disease-causing loci in humans are more associated with certain deeply conserved ancestral linkage groups.




Since 2015, I have been working increasingly more in the field of genetic epidemiology, in collaboration with researchers in the Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics at The University of Manitoba and The Hospital for Sick Children. These projects have been focused on identifying genetic loci associated with Autism (X. Liu, UofM) or Type 1 Diabetes (A. Paterson, Sick Kids). 

Current projects include understanding the evolutionary dynamics of the human-specific gene family FAM72A (with A. Martin, UofT). Additionally, I am collaborating on projects examining the population genetics of the Kazakh people.

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