Professor Thomas Richards
The aim of our research is to understand how eukaryotic cellular complexity –which encompasses plants, animals, fungi and a vast diversity of microbial forms called protists– arose and diversified. To do this, we use phylogenomic approaches combined with cell biology and molecular experiments. Our team currently work on three major themes:
- We use phylogenomic approaches to understand the gene ancestry and gene flow across the eukaryotic tree of life, from the last eukaryotic common ancestor through to extant taxa. We combine these analyses with synthetic biology approaches to explore the hypothesis that gene transfer has had major phenotypic consequences for evolution and ecology of eukaryotic microbes. Much of our work in this area focuses on pathogen evolution and the evolution of transporter proteins.
- Endosymbiosis has continually driven diversification of huge sections of the eukaryotic tree of life. Relatively little is known about how endosymbioses are established and how they go on to form long-term stable interactions. We are developing systems biology approaches to identify the gene network that encodes and polices a nascent endosymbiotic interaction.
- The study of uncultured microbial eukaryotic diversity has continually redefined our understanding of the tree of life. We use environmental DNA approaches, combined with microscopy and single cell genome sequencing, to understand the biology and ecology of uncultured protists.
Outside the University I am a member of the Board of Trustees for the BBSRC Earlham Institute.