My research interests encompass the fields of evolutionary genetics, immunogenetics, genomics, and conservation genetics. I am particularly interested in the relationship between genotype and phenotype, and in the evolution of genes that underlie traits of ecological importance.
My current research focuses on the evolution of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) region in vertebrates, using an iconic New Zealand reptile, the tuatara, as a model. The MHC region is one the most complex, variable regions of the vertebrate genome and plays a direct role in disease resistance and self/non-self recognition. I am currently working with researchers at Harvard University to identify, map and analyse the arrangement and diversity of MHC genes in the tuatara genome.
By comparing the tuatara MHC region with that of other vertebrates we aim to better understand how this functionally important region of the genome has evolved. A second theme to this research is to investigate what underlies the extraordinarily high levels of variation at MHC genes, by assessing the relationship between population size, pathogen loads, mating success and MHC variation in natural tuatara populations.
I am also interested in the evolution of sex determining mechanisms and have recently begun to investigate the genetic basis of temperature-dependent sex determination in tuatara.