My research is at the interface of molecular and organismal biology. I am interested in the application of comparative genomics (including novel genomic markers - e.g. microRNAs) to investigate key problems in organismal evolution. Currently addressed problems include early animal evolution and the evolution of sensorial reception (particularly vision) in early animal evolution. A major driver of this research line is to understand the factors that caused the animals to radiate only during the Cambrian despite their early (Cryogenian) origins. Further to that I am interested in the evolution of the Ecdysozoa, particularly the Arthropoda, and the process through which arthropods colonised the land. Finally, I am extremely interested in early evolution, which underpinned the origin of the major prokaryotic lineages and eukaryogenesis. I am not, however, only interested in comparative genomics; a strong focus of my research group is in the development of novel phylogenetic methods and analytical protocols. These include supertree methods, methods to distinguish phylogenetic from non-phylogenetic signals, and approaches to differentiate homologous from homoplastic similarity in morphological data sets.
I obtained a degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) at the University of Parma (Itlay) in 1998, with a thesis discussing the behavioural ecology of the Italian ruin lizard. In 2002 I obtained a PhD from the University of Bristol (School of Earth Sciences, under the supervision of Prof. Michael Benton and Dr Mark Wilkinson) with a thesis discussing the application of novel phylogenetic methods (including supertree methods) and types of data (molecular data) in Palaeobiology. In July 2002 I moved to the Pennsylvania State University to pick up a NASA funded postdoctoral research assistantship in the laboratory of S. Blair Hedges. During my time in the US I applied molecular methods to investigate the process of animal terrestrialisation. In October 2003 I came back to Europe to pick up a second postdoctoral research assistantship in the laboratory of Dr Mark Wilkinson at the Department of Zoology of the Natural History Museum (London). While in London I started to investigate the molecular aspects of the origin of vision and sensory receptor evolution. In 2004 I was awarded a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship and in January 2005 I moved to the National University of Ireland, Maynooth to pick up my Marie Curie fellowship (in the laboratory of Prof. James McInerney). As a Marie Curie fellow I mostly investigated the application of super tree methods in phylogenomics, and used these approaches to investigate the origin of the eukaryotes and hypotheses relating to the tree of life and early evolution. In 2007 I was appointed Lecturer of Bioinformatics at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. In 2007 I was also appointed as a Scientific Associate of the Department of Zoology of the Natural History Museum of London, and in 2011 I become a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (MIT–lead Team). While I was in Ireland my research was primarily funded by Science Foundation Ireland and by the Irish Research Council for Science Engineering and Technology. During this period I sat in the scientific council of the Irish Centre for High-End Computing. In 2012 I moved back to Bristol to pick up the position of Reader in Phylogenomics at the Schools of Earth Sciences and of Biological Sciences. I am currently serving on the council of the Systematic Association and as an editor in BMC Evolutionary Biology. My research is currently funded by the Templeton Foundation.
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