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Evolution and Diversity

Head of Group: Dr Samuel Brockington

Positions for PhD students and postdoctoral research associates are available in the Brockington Lab.  Please email for further details and expressions of interest.

We focus on fundamental questions concerning the origin, evolution and diversification of plants. My research is both comparative and integrative, combining systematics, morphology, development, molecular genetics, and physiology. The major theme uniting these different approaches is phylogenetics, which we use to reconstruct the evolutionary history of both organismal and gene diversity. Broad areas of interest include phylogenetic relationships in flowering plants, evolution of floral developmental pathways, radiation of the plant genetic toolkit, genomic adaptation to extreme environments, and the evolution of key innovations associated with terrestrial colonization.


Current projects:

Evolution of Homiohydry

The cuticle is a waxy extracellular coating on the surface of organisms, which evolved separately in both arthropods and land plants. It is essential to the survival of ~ 80% of land-based species. It is regarded as one of the major evolutionary innovations, that enabled the colonization of the land by plants, by preventing water loss and dehydration. We are investigating the origin and evolution of the land plant cuticle and dehydration resistant genetic pathways, using phylogenetics, physiological experiments, transcriptomics, and functional genetics in early model land plants and charophyte algae.

Genomics of Extreme Adaptation

The Caryophyllales are an order of flowering plants which include some of the most bizarre species on the planet, such as arid-adapted cacti and carnivorous plants such as the Venus Fly Trap. With Stephen Smith (University of Michigan) and Michael Moore (Oberlin College, Ohio) we are sequencing genomes and transcriptome from across the Caryophyllales to understand relationships between rates of molecular evolution and extreme morphological and physiological adaptation. The project includes collecting trips to some of the most botanically diverse habitats in the world including the Succulent Karoo in South Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, and French Guiana.

Evolution of the Genetic Tool Kit

Massive increases in data derived from whole genome sequencing and taxon dense transcriptome sequencing offers an unparalleled opportunity to accurately reconstruct the evolution of important gene lineages. We have been analysing the evolution and diversification of transcription factors such as the floral regulator LEAFY and the epidermal modulator MIXTA, the PIN auxin transport proteins, and diacylglycerol acyltransferases (a molecular target for algal biofuels). We are now interested in broader phylogenomics approaches to reconstruct the radiations in genetic tool kits which underly the divergence of the major lineages of land plants.