Broadly I am interested in the application of mathematical and computational models of embryonic development to explain differences in morphology between organisms, and how the process of development alters the evolvability of phenotypes.
For my DPhil project I am exploring the formation of somites, early embryonic precursors of vertebrae, in embryos of the Lake Malawi Cichlids Astatotilapia calliptera and Rhamphochromis sp. ‘chilingali’. These two species differ in their number of vertebrae (30 vs 36, respectively), despite sharing at least 99.75% of their genome, making them an excellent model system for studying the role of development in evolvability of morphology.
For my project I use a mixture of computational modelling, microscopy, and molecular techniques to understand how the developmental process is altered between these two species, and hopefully explain the difference in the number of vertebrae. Overall I hope that my project will improve our understanding of the role of development in evolution.